Saturday, November 04, 2006

It ain't easy being green

Is it just me, or is there something very confused about the following anti-green screed by Anthony Giddens?
Actually, it wasn't the green movement that alerted us to the dangers of climate change, it was scientists.
So, 'the green movement' and 'science' are two thoroughly different things, with no overlapping interests? That seems odd, with all those 'anti-science' greens promoting (highly technical as well as potentially highly profitable) technologies such as wind and solar energy and basing their calls for action on climate change, pollution and declining fish stocks on scientific study.

And, erm, nobody in 'the green movement' has contributed to the effort to warn about climate change? Really? Do 'scientific' ideas automatically filter through the rest of society without politically active interest groups to promote them?
Large sectors of the green movement actually have their origins in a quite different body of thinking. They are to be found in the writings of those hostile to modern industry, which was seen as destroying the integrity of nature - essentially a romantic, conservative reaction to industrialism.
There is something true about this...but, on the other hand, this in itself does seem to be a thoroughly conservative reaction to the more modern versions of environmental thinking, many of which have embraced technology and which seem to have become fairly mainstream (as is suggested, at the very least, here and here). If environmental issues have become popular topics for discussion, it most likely has as much to do with the activism of groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace as it does with the hard scientific work of agencies such as NOAA.

Furthermore, since it has been convincingly suggested that a highly significant part of climate change is a result of 'industrialism', has not the 'conservative reaction to industrialism' (however naive it might be in some ways) been contributory to recognising that danger?
This threat explains why so many greens are either hostile to science and technology, or at least ambivalent about them.
So, Giddens here subtly equates ambivalence about the results of science (which, I would suggest, is a rather reasonable and sane point of view) with hostility to science. Clever, don't you think? But it gets better:
The green movement developed around the idea of the conservation of nature in the face of the advance of human technology.
Partly, yes, for example, it has focused on pointing out the perils of, say, CFCs for the ozone layer or fossil fuels for the climate.... which, in the end, has also been the focus of many scientists, who, according to Giddens seem to exist in a non-politicised cloud of ivory-tower purity...
The very imagery of "green" - a return to nature freed as far as possible from human tampering - is wrong. There can be no going back to "nature", since "nature" no longer exists, at least so far as climate is concerned - we are living in a world in which human influence is everywhere.
I'm not so sure that the vast majority of green thinking does, anymore, focus on a 'return to nature' which is straw-manned here by Giddens.

Moreover, if 'nature' no longer exists because humans have 'influenced' the world, when is it exactly that 'nature' stopped existing? Humans have 'existed' for - depending on one's view - around 100,000 years...and the first major human-caused extinctions may have been caused about 10,000 years ago. This sounds like a major 'influence'; so did 'nature' stop 'existing' way back then? If so, isn't the distinction being made here somehow silly?

There is, of course, a core insight buried somewhere in this...I too think that there is a romantic element in some green thinking which has created a kind of Frankenstein version of science which only does harm to the world. But, most of the sensible green thinking to which I pay attention (see my next post) takes this as a given.

On the other hand, most of the environmental problems with which scientists - and others - have to deal with are a result of human abilities to affect the environment which have been aided by...wait for

This all seems straightforward enough to me. And, I hope, to you.

But what I find bizarre in this comment from Giddens is his idea that a statement such as this -
Science and technology have to be a large part of our responses to climate change.
- is in any way in need of saying for the vast majority of people who would consider themselves part of the 'green movement' which he apparently so despises.

To suggest that the main obstacle to dealing with climate change in the next century is the green movement is, frankly, demented and perverse, and it is a thought more worthy of a hack novelist like Michael Crichton than an intellectual of Giddens's standing.

It really doesn't take too much originality to be a prominent thinker these days, does it?

As a PS to these thoughts, The Wife has the following to say:

Giddens opens his commentary with a statement that may seem to reflect the situation accurately, but it is nevertheless a piece of rhetorical obfuscation of the kind I usually give my undergraduate students to dissect. Climate change has not just "come to the forefront" in public discourse, it is being used, in public (which does not necessarily mean "by" the public), to achieve very specific political goals (some of which are as far removed from the ecological concerns on which they capitalise as they could be). Context, please!

I hope I'm not the only person around to find the green conscience recently sported by Blair and Cameron to curry favour with the voters a hypocritical and shameless instrumentalisation of the existential issues which green politics are addressing (and have, in some countries at least, been doing so for some decades). This is also the reason why I thought it rich, to say the least, that the political leader of a country that until a couple of weeks ago gave sod all about ecology, should urge the chancellor of Germany (clearly one of the more ecologically aware European countries and the first to elect greens to parliament) to push a common strategy on climate change.

Well-intended though Blair's intervention might have been, it had an irritatingly sanctimonious ring about it. As though he'd thought up the issue of global warming all by himself (maybe with the aid of an inspirational crystal or such).

Or as we say in German: as though it had grown on his own dungheap. Though in the case of Blair, we may have to refer instead to a Mayan mudbath.

No comments: