What is the sound of one hand hand-wringing?

One of my favourite lines in anything I’ve ever read about politics is possibly an apocryphal attribution to Voltaire. On being told that, ‘life is hard’, Voltaire is said to have replied, ‘compared to what?’. Comparison is essential to all humanist thinking – thinking that puts humans, rather than gods and monsters, at the centre of its perspective.

What is an ‘extreme’ political movement? What is an ‘extreme’ temperature? In political and climate debates, the putative norm is often omitted from the breathless claims of those that urge that something urgently be done. In the climate debate (such as it is), it turns out that an ‘extreme’ temperature can be one that cannot be meaningfully expressed as temperature at all, for instance in the case of oceanic warming. So it is stated instead as energy content. In the case of politics, ‘extremes’ are typically stated in reference to the object central to the ugliest political movements of the early-mid C20th: nationalism.

According to Martin Hultman, Associate Professor in Science, Technology and Environmental studies at Chalmers University of Technology, ‘Climate change denial {sic} [is] strongly linked to right-wing nationalism’.

“Two strong groups have joined forces on this issue – the extractive industry, and right-wing nationalists. The combination has taken the current debate to a much more dramatic level than previously, at the same time as our window of opportunity is disappearing.”

This is the analysis of Chalmers researcher Martin Hultman, Associate Professor in Science, Technology and Environmental studies, and research leader for the comprehensive project: “Why don’t we take climate change seriously? A study of climate change denial”, which is now collecting the world’s foremost researchers in this area.

In the project, the network will examine the ideas and interests behind climate change denial, with a particular focus on right-wing nationalism, extractive industries, and conservative thinktanks. The goal is to increase understanding of climate change denial, and its influence on political decision-making, but also to raise awareness among the general public, those in power, research institutes, and industry.

The article claims that, ‘Right-wing nationalism’s links to climate change denial are a relatively unresearched topic’. But there have been plenty of attempts to frame climate change denial as a political bogeyman. George Monbiot has been moaning about ‘right wing economic think tanks’ dominating the political establishment since he graduated from public school (which is the British term for ‘private school’ if you’re new to English double-speak), Oxford and the BBC.

Even as a consultant to one of the ‘right wing nationalist parties’ named in the article, (and indeed a think tank), I have never noticed the influence of energy companies. Neither did I notice the nationalism — presumably, zombie-ish flag-waving jingoism and the suchlike. But it has been the contention of climate warriors that climate change denial is awash with oil money, and now rampant Nazism.

And I have never noticed the influence of a climate change denial ‘movement’ on slowing policy. Indeed, what I have found most curious about climate policy-making is first that it has proceeded without any popular support or any attention paid to the public mood. Second, that the problems policymakers have encountered are almost entirely caused by the categorically green persuasion. Biofuels… Diesel… Wood-fired power stations… The absurdity of these things, and carbon markets, massive subsidies, constant reformation of the energy market… Hugely expensive nuclear energy plants… rising energy prices… Every green policy failure is the consequence of greens. And the failure to settle on a global policy has been the fault of those attending the UNFCCC meetings, from which any inconvenient influence has been excluded.

It barely needs any retelling… Green attempts to locate fossil energy funds behind climate scepticism have largely failed. Sure, there are flows of money, for instance, from the likes of the Koch bros. to conservative foundations. The big ‘but’ here being that i) rich people support various causes; ii) not much of the identified flows could be identified as going to climate change ‘denial’; iii) a comparison with flows from rich people to climate campaigns does not flatter the green movement’s posturing.

On that last point, we should recall Maurice Strong’s involvement in setting up the green movement in the supranational camp at the UN. We should also take into this perspective the likes of the Rockefellers. And now the Jeremy Granthams, and the billionaires behind the ClimateWorks Foundation. Oil tycoons have been recast as climate warriors. It has been shown that just four ‘philanthropic’ foundations are behind 75% of climate activism, and that thus excluding billionaires and their think-tanks from public life would deprive the green movement of more than a $billion a year. And what about the influence of green energy interests?

Voltaire’s rejoinder puts in the ground the argument that energy companies have been behind climate ‘denial’. We can find much more money going from energy companies to green organisations. The zombie will rise again, of course. But we can say for sure that, thus far, Hultman’s bullshit has not reanimated the corpse of perhaps the oldest zombie in the climate debate in any way that makes it more lifelike than any earlier attempt.

But what of the right wing nationalism sweeping the world?

Hultman explains that many of the right-wing nationalist parties in Europe now have climate change denial as one of their most important issues.

“These parties are increasing in significance. We see it in Denmark and Norway, in Britain with UKIP, and Front National in France. But also, in Sweden, with the Sweden Democrats’ suspicion towards SMHI (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute), their dismissal of the Paris Agreement and of climate laws, and in their appraisal of climate change denier Václav Klaus as a freedom-fighting hero,” he says. Hultman also mentions the Trump administration in the USA as a prime example.

Through the new research project, a unique international collaborative platform for research into climate change denial, Centre for Studies of Climate Change Denialism (CEFORCED), will be established, which will connect around 40 of the world’s foremost scientific experts in the area and pave the way for international comparisons.

It is surely the shadow of WWII which is cast over such naked attempts to hook climate change ‘denial’ into the European political establishment’s deep seated anxiety about its future in the the wake of awakened nationalist movements. That is, after all what is alluded to by the word ‘denial’, and the supposed danger of nationalism. But they should think twice about trading on the half-baked historical memories of lame academics, politically expedient though they may seem to be.

Early critics of the ascendant environmentalism of the 1990s noted its own questionable heritage amidst the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, and European expansion. Auschwitz was home to one of the first organic farms. Blood-and-soil Nazism made one of the individual, the state and their environment according to what Hitler himself called ‘the iron logic of nature’, and under what Hess called ‘applied biology’. This was an ethno- and eco-nationalism. Yet curiously, it is only the nationalism of National Socialists that is remembered so clearly, not the naturalism (not to mention their desire to unite all of Europe under one regime) that underpinnned their eugenics and desire for racial hygiene. What gives?

One reason is perhaps that the nation state was the supposed seat and object of ‘ideology’. Hence supranational political bodies seek to drain national sovereignty from their members. This is not a secret. And it is not a conspiracy. It is a logical consequence of subordinating a national democracy to a higher body. And it is a stated aim of the architects of both the UN and EU. It is written in stone in Brussels, and you can see it for yourself.

The thinking is that, as two world wars showed, whereas the national is unstable, a supranational body could keep its members in check.

Maybe so. But maybe so, also, that the excesses of early-mid C20th nationalism were particular to that episode. That is to say it emerged not merely from the notion of the nation, but that the nation as National Socialists (and many other movements at the time) conceived of it gained emphasis because of (to sound Marxist for a moment) the historical forces at play. There is too much verbiage in general, trading on the notion that fascism is merely an idea, rather than was a thing produced by the circumstances of the 1920s and 1930s. Yet most actual self-proclaimed fascists today are merely comedic.

There is a big problem with the basic coordinates of CEFORCED’s research. Take, for example, the climate-loving, EU-loving Scottish Nationalist Party. They seek independence from Westminster merely so that they can be further embedded in the European Union. They’re the EU’s kind of nationalists. Meanwhile, the recently-defunct British Nationalist Party had much sympathy with the SNP’s leftish economics, not so much with the EU, and yet was designated as ‘far right’ in spite of its socialism. The main difference being, of course, the emphasis given to ethnic identity by the two parties. The pro EU tendency does give much emphasis to identity, but celebrates ‘diversity’ of identity, rather than the identity itself. The observation that both are identitarian movements is not new, but pertains. Meanwhile, the claim that ‘nationalists’ are ‘right wing’ is not borne out by the British experience.

The main basis for an apparent rise of nationalism in Europe today is of course European federalism. This is the ‘other’ that Voltaire would have us compare to. Hultman’s bogeymen have not risen, like his zombies, out of the ground.

To many people in Europe, the EU has been a remote institution that does not serve them as much as it serves its elites. The nation state is preferred by many people over such an aloof and detached body as the EU. The nations’ parliaments can be lobbied, their members held to account and executives thrown out. For all its faults, the nation still exists as a more ‘natural’ entity insofar as it represents the sum of all settlements that have gone before, culminating (only recently in some cases) in ancien régimes being succeeded by
democracy. The EU is a disjuncture from that process. Hence it is profoundly undemocratic.

For the cause of the rise of ‘nationalists’, then, we should look to the excesses of the ‘federalists’, since that is what they are.

The principal charge against ‘nationalists’ has become that they are xenophobic — that they are racists for their opposition to European and members states’ immigration policies. Perhaps some of them are. But the construction of the EU and its policies have not been troubled by democracy, whereas the movement of people from within and outside of the EU has caused problems. Shouting ‘racist’ at the people who point out the problems does not make either of them go away.

These ‘racists’ are not the ethno-nationalists of the 1930s. Again, for the rise of popular nationalism, we should ask what the role of the federalist has been. I believe they are the federalists’ creation. In summary: there is nothing emergent in Europe that is not created by and/or epitomised by federalists. From climate change denial to right wing racist populism; their sponsors have been the intransigent political classes that have dominated.

Hultman himself is the beneficiary of public funding. In the case of this project, it is the Swedish Energy Agency that will pick up the tab.

A sustainable energy system benefits society. The Swedish Energy Agency has an overall picture of the supply and use of energy in society. We work for a sustainable energy system, combining ecological sustainability, competitiveness and security of supply. The Agency:

*Develops and disseminates knowledge about a more efficient energy use to households, industry, and the public sector.
* Finances research for new and renewable energy technologies, smart grids, and vehicles and transport fuels of the future.
* Supports commercialisation and growth of energy related cleantech.
* Participates in international collaboration with the aim of attaining Swedish energy and climate objectives.
* Manages instruments such as the Electricity Certificate System and the EU Emission Trading System.
* Provides energy system analysis, energy forecasts and official energy statistics.
* The Swedish Energy Agency is subordinate to the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, and regulated by the Government through the instruction and annual appropriations directives. Parliament and the Government decide on the assignments and budget of the Agency.

How bizarre that a government agency of this kind should be funding work like Hultman’s.

Is there really a connection between climate change denial and ‘nationalism’. Or is it the artifact of a perspective which is bent on climate change and federalism?

Why are there to be no shiny new research departments entirely devoted to noting the coincidence of the EU’s fanatics and climate change warriors?

There can be no doubt that far from ‘research’, CEFORCED’s product will be propaganda. Like so many institutions established within university campuses, their aims are on any sensible view, all but explicitly political, though escape notice as such by virtue of alignment with their funding bodies. The federalist does not see himself as ideological, attached to a political project that is far more ‘extreme’ than anything proposed by the ‘nationalist’. He claims that his outlook is based on ‘science’, but it is the mere hint of criticism of policy that elicits the whinge about ‘denial’. And he claims that rather than being ‘political’, he is merely interested in the correct formulation of ‘policy’. He fools himself.

Whether deliberate or unintended, CEFORCED’s output will be nothing more than propaganda because of its founder’s inability to put the objects of his study into context, i.e. into relationship with his own perspective. Like many academics, he imagines and casts himself as merely an observer. Thus, being blind to his own prejudices, he fails to answer ‘compared to what’. If he were to answer it, he would find climate change ‘deniers’ only in contrast to rank climate change alarmism. And he would find ‘nationalists’ only in contrast to blind, drunk and blind drunk federalists.

As Donna Laframboise notes, it may be too late for CEFORCED. Sweden goes to the polls in just a few weeks time, and it is likely that a significantly euro-, if not climate-sceptic contingent will enjoy a massive boost, just as they have in the UK, in France, in Austria, in Italy…

It will be no use, then, pretending that the political outsiders can be studied ‘objectively’ without revealing the prejudices of the ‘researcher’. Like Lewandowsky, who moved to the UK just a few years ago, and yet became the EU’s most fervent supporter, this ‘research’ only demonstrates the extent to which ‘research’ has become propaganda, ‘researchers’ have become political hacks, and universities have become campaigning organisations. If the researcher had instead opted for debate, and for winning the argument, the story of Academia’s descent would be very different.


  1. If there is any sense to the claim, Paul, I think it is that nationalism is growing in influence, and that thus because it is ‘linked’ to nationalism, climate scepticism is growing in influence.


  2. CEFORCED has a website since yesterday:
    Not much there so far, except some literature references including old friends like Oreskes, Dunlap, and Brulle. Organiser Martin Hultman has another publication coming out soon on “Denouncing environmental challenges via anti-establishment rhetoric, marketing of doubts, industrial/breadwinner masculinities enactments and ethno-nationalism.”

    What’s one hand for, anyway, if not for wringing?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you nailed this point: “what I have found most curious about climate policy-making is first that it has proceeded without any popular support or any attention paid to the public mood.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t see what’s wrong with nationalism. I have to confess that I left Cuba when I was 14 and have been rolling around for decades, so I’m not very good nationalist material. But I don’t see what’s wrong if one of you is English and proud of having invaded Scotland and having one of you invent football. Or if you are say Zulu you could be proud of the way King Shaka conquered every tribe he could get within sight. Thats not exactly something i worry about.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lewandowsky was brought up in Germany.. no idea what his official nationality is now, German, American, Australian?.. but maybe just likes the EU, because of Germany’s ‘past’?


  6. Lewandowsky was brought up in Germany.. no idea what his official nationality is now, German, American, Australian?.. but maybe just likes the EU, because of Germany’s ‘past’?


  7. There is something extremely Western in these thoughts. It is as though those mapping climate denialist networks have never seen a political map of the world. Neither have they comprehended that the Western nations have around one fifth of the global population and just a third of emissions. CEFORCED do not seen to be terribly inclusive whether in trying to make nation states subordinate to more enlightened organisations or shutting down fossil fuel producing corporations.


  8. The putrid wretch behind this bit of dehumanization has no interest in understanding skeptics, nationalism and especially not climate extremists.
    He does not want enlightenment, he wants the silence of skeptics.
    His founding premise, that climate change is an existential threat is delusional extremism.
    That belief not a consensus belief, nor is it supported by the data. It is non-sciemtific nonsense.
    The interesting studies will be when creeps like this have the light of inquiry turned on them.
    Here is a start:
    Climate extremists claim to not be nationalistic.
    So why do they fixate on controlling national political power?
    Why do climate extremists seek to wield power outside of democratic means?
    Why do climate extremists have the consistent practice of combining dehumanizing skeptics with cowardly avoidance of debating skeptics?


  9. Ben

    It’s perfectly physics, simple:

    When energy is added to a system, it increases both extremes, hot and cold. You would have heard this already if you possessed a radio or computer.

    Which is why a record cold snap only confirms global warming prophecies.

    Everyone knows this. It’s so obvious it’s now considered the Negative Oneth Law of Thermodynamics.

    When you reheat a slice of pizza in the microwave, what happens? Most of it becomes warm and soggy; other parts get so hot they burn your palate; while other bits turn to ice.

    Only someone like yourself, with extremely centrist leanings and enslaved to libertarianism, could possibly deny this fact.

    By the way, Woody Allen, the Voltaire of the Upper East Side, put it best when he said life was a bit like anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That said, the OP is almost unimprovably brilliant (nice job Ben) and could only be made cleverer by the omission from the title of the second occurrence of the word “hand”.


  11. Basically, this is the prevailing ideological and political Zeitgeist loosely defined as ‘left wing, globalist, cultural Marxist environmentalism’ looking at itself in the mirror, then squaring up to its logical opposite, namely, ‘right wing, nationalist, conservative, pragmatic scepticism’, wagging its virtuous, morally superior finger in its face and exclaiming ‘You are bad and we’re going to prove to the world just how bad’. The Trotskyist eco-loonies see that people are kicking back hard against their pernicious social and economic agenda, so they seek to redefine their opposition not as a natural reaction to their extremist ideology and their destructive economic, industrial and social policies, but as the re-emergence of a bogeyman from Europe’s past – namely Fascism and Nazism. By supposedly exposing the intimate connections between ‘climate denialism’ and right wing nationalist politics, by giving such an exposé the stamp of ‘expert’ authority, they broadbrush the legitimate opposition as a bunch of unreconstructed racists and/or apologists and enablers of said thuggish nationalistic xenophobes. ‘Populism’ thereby becomes ‘Nazism’; scepticism and rationalism thereby become denial and delusion. Right wing conservatism is the soil within which they all flourish.


  12. I thought about it Brad. But this is why I decided it should be as it is.

    We don’t say hand-clapping.

    We do say hand-wringing.

    To clap is to bring hands together. But to wring is to apply the hands to another object, unless it is the hands that are being wrung.


  13. Jaime. But I wouldn’t say that this is greenism, ‘looking at itself in the mirror, then squaring up to its logical opposite’. It’s not looking in the mirror, it’s not squaring up, and it’s not a logical, but only a historical opposite.

    There is no self-reflection in Hultman’s piece. And there is no attempt to debate, much less to the see the context of the debate. And if only they were Trotskyists! At least then the debate could be about Trotsky. We could point out that Hultman seems to have departed from Trotsky’s aims of ‘abolition man’s power over man’, and ‘increasing man’s power over nature’. We should rise above their arguments with ghosts. C21st environmentalism is a new thing, it’s unique to this era, and it may yet prove to be worse.


  14. Ben,

    I think you may be right regarding the lack of reflection. However, I see where Jaime is coming from. If one starts with the association of left-wing, globalist politics with environmentalism (which seems to be the currently vogue ideological bundling) it is understandable that right-wing, nationalistic politics should be bundled in with a scepticism of said environmentalist dogma. The problem with this association is that it can result in nationalism being automatically linked with a lack of respect for Nature – the diametric opposite of the historical truth! Anyone with even the most tenuous understanding of the origins of Nazism would know that it was founded upon the ‘völkisch’ concept, which, amongst other things, entailed a profound reverence for the natural world. Indeed, there are aspects of ‘völkisch’ that seem indistinguishable from modern ecopsychology. As far back as 1895, in ‘Land und Leute’ (Land and People), Professor Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl wrote:

    “A people must die out if it can no longer understand the legacy of the forests from which it is strengthened and rejuvenated. We must preserve the forest, not just to keep the stove going in winter, but also to keep the pulse of the people warm and happy so that Germans can remain German.”

    History tells us that left-wing and right-wing politics carry exactly the same propensity for the perversion of environmentalist ideologies. A little knowledge of history wouldn’t do the likes of Professor Hultman any harm.

    [BEN: {cough}Read the post.{cough}]


  15. John, it is mostly that we should avoid arguments with ghosts. The post makes the similar historical points to yours, but suggests that they are particular. In reference to Jaime’s point that I picked up, for instance, it is Trotsky who features, but who, if it right to say Hultman (et al?) take anything from him, would be turning in his grave. I can’t see it. Moreover, it would be meaningless to cite Trotsky as Hultman’s antecedent without understanding Stalinism, and the post ’58 Left, who are in fact all but absent in the construction of the EU, and a busted flush by the time of its creation. The -isms and -ists make for convenient shortcuts, but they crumble in the hands. It’s Hultman mistake. We should avoid it. C21st Environmentalism is particular to now, even if it repeats historical mistakes from its own history and other movements’ histories — these can be pointed out as such, rather than by imposing an undue sense of historical continuity. Left and right turn out to be far more fluid, even nebulous categories than we want them to be. Hence, ‘left-wing and right-wing politics carry exactly the same propensity…’ for much more than just the perversion of ‘nature’… but only because they as categories encompass virtually all thinking. Indeed, it tends to be political ideas, which occasionally try to find a naturalistic basis, but which also attract the designation ‘left’ or ‘right’ in relation to other ideas; the dimensionality is at best prosaic, at worst misleading. I am absolutely, 100% not against thinking about why or how political ideas get framed in naturalistic terms in general — I have many pet theories on the subject. But we should be careful to see those ideas emerging for reasons particular to their historical place, not, as I say in the post, by treating the ideas around which movements formed as having their own political momentum. There is a reason Malthus pops up in the C18/19th and again in the mid C20th. And there’s a reason utopian and romantic socialism comes and goes. It is not by virtue of their own agency or mere fasion.

    Rupert Darwall has some interesting observations on Germany’s long running inner conflict between industrial prowess and poetic valorisation of nature that you allude to, simultaneous with Swedish social democrats ambitions to make a place for themselves on the world stage with nuclear power. These are *much* more interesting priors to the story of global warming politics and its sideshows than invoking isms across centuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It seems to me that CEFORCED is destined to follow the same sunken pathway that IPCC took. IPCC took as gospel that climate changes were caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide and followed a predetermined route to prove this. CEFORCED also has a predetermined conclusion, that modern day climate change denial is the result of an unholy alliance between right wing nationalim and blood money funding from the extractive industry. The researchers are all pre-selected and vetted, and the outcomes are known and “obvious”. Any objections will be be blamed on fascism or industry and dismissed as having no merit. A carve-up.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Ben,

    Thanks for that. However:

    “The post makes the similar historical points to yours, but suggests that they are particular.”

    I hadn’t intended that my own modest contribution should be taken the way you appear to have construed. The point was that contemporary associations, though they may seem ‘reasonable’ (note, I avoided the term ‘logical’) can be misleading when they are treated as historical universals. I cited the Nazi example, not because it provides a historical parallel but because it does quite the opposite and so disproves the CEFORCED thesis (which is what I thought you had ably done, but without making the explicit connection with ecopsychology). In differing historical contexts the same ideology can take on a radically different bearing and benefit from quite different antecedents.

    If you still think I’m missing your point, then fair enough. If you think I am making a redundant point, then fair enough. But if you think I post comments without bothering to read the article, you misjudge me.


  18. John, I was more trying to get to what Jaime called (admittedly loosely) “left wing, globalist, cultural Marxist environmentalism”, which I thought you were expanding on. I think just ‘environmentalism’ would do, though contemporary environmentalism is categorically ‘globalist’. What I try to say in reply is, no, they’re worse than that….

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ben,

    “C21st environmentalism is a new thing, it’s unique to this era, and it may yet prove to be worse”.

    I’m not sure it is a new thing; it is an old thing adapted to a new environment, new technology, new ideas, new opportunities, new political and economic structures. Radical ideas evolve. Nazism, fascism, Marxism, Communism, Trotskyism didn’t just appear out of nowhere in the 1930s as brand new doctrines; they found unique and forceful expression in the spirit of the age and hence came to be defined ‘of’ that age, but in reality, the impetus behind them runs far deeper back into the historic roots of human civilisation.

    There is no self reflection in Hultman’s piece naturally, because the New Greens do not wish to associate themselves with failed historical socialist ideologies; they wish to convince us that they are something new, exciting and progressive, a global movement risen to address the unique challenges of the 21st century and beyond. But in essence, there is nothing new; it’s the same old, same old, adapting itself to new avenues of opportunity, sniffing out the chance to succeed now where they have failed in the past. Not only do they shy away from their own past, but they actively and falsely seek to tar their largely non-ideologically based opposition by associating them with historical, equally inglorious political ideologies.

    I used the term “Trotskyist eco loonies” advisedly. Trotskyism, contrary to Stalinism, did not advocate ‘socialism in one country’, but envisaged a permanent socialist revolution encompassing all countries:

    “In The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Trotsky added an appendix denouncing Stalin’s policy of “Socialism in One Country:”

    The reactionary tendencies of autarchy are a defense reflex of senile capitalism to the task with which history confronts it, that of freeing its economy from the fetters of private property and the national state, and organizing it in a planned manner throughout the Earth.

    In Lenin’s Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited People – presented by the Soviet of People’s Commissars for the approval of the Constituent Assembly during its brief hours of life – the “fundamental task” of the new regime was thus defined: “The establishment of a socialist organization of society and the victory of socialism in all countries.” The international character of the revolution was thus written into the basic document of the new regime. No one at that time would have dared present the problem otherwise!”


    Trotskyism is globalism; Marxism writ large.


  20. Sorry that some of my comment was redundant. It is annoying that alleged intellectuals more and more indulge in supporting censorship, suppression and transparent propaganda.
    Ben makes those points much clearer and more compelling than did I.


  21. Jaime – Trotskyism is globalism; Marxism writ large.

    That’s just not helping anyone understand environmentalism. Trotsky might have been internationalist, but not all globalism is Trotskyism, nor even Marxism. By the same token, the British Empire was ‘Trotskyist’.

    There was no Trotskyist revolution. There was barely even a Trotskyist party for more than five minutes at a time, even in the 1970s. The subsequent greening of erstwhile Trots in fact represents their going mouldy, not their sudden acquisition of power.

    You say that ‘Radical ideas evolve’ and that ‘Nazism, fascism, Marxism, Communism, Trotskyism’ didn’t come out of nowhere. But they did end up there. There are no Nazis, except for a few dozen pathetic weirdos with torches on a march in Charlottesville, much to the excitement of the global media. Even if people call themselves communists, Marxists, or Trotskyists — and far, far fewer people do than at any point in my life so far — they cannot call their non-existent party anything. Which would rather defeat the point, wouldn’t it, of being a Marxist, communist, or Trotskyist. Never mind socialism in one country… what is socialism without even a party? It is nothing.

    There is no self reflection in Hultman’s piece naturally, because the New Greens do not wish to associate themselves with failed historical socialist ideologies; they wish to convince us that they are something new, exciting and progressive, a global movement risen to address the unique challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

    That’s a conspiracy theory. The much simpler truth of the matter is that Hultman et al are historically-illiterate and do not have the means to produce any insight. They don’t need to convince us of anything because they have already won their position, and the optics of their victory had nothing to do with it.

    That is what is *new* about the current era; it is categorically post-political. There are no ideological struggles as there were to characterize the early-mid C20th. This is why comparison is important, and why trying to find continuities where there are in fact far more disjunctures — often traumatic disjuntures at that — leads us down Hultman’s dead end.

    Even Chris Huhne knew that ‘you can’t build environmentalism in one country’…

    HUHNE: ‘All through human political history, you have had governments that have tried to set up particular objectives and have realised they can only go so far so fast without the rest of the world going along with them. For example, back in the bad old days of communism, you had the whole argument about whether Joe Stalin could have socialism in one country. You can’t have environmentalism in one country.’

    Do I think he is a Trot. No. The dynamics of constructing a global political order are the same, whether you’re doing it for any ends, green, red, or blue.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. had to look up Chalmers

    from the intro page –
    “About Chalmers
    Chalmers University of Technology conducts research and offers education in technology, science, shipping and architecture with a sustainable future as its global vision. Chalmers is well-known for providing an effective environment for innovation and has 13 departments. Graphene Flagship, an FET Flagship initiative by the European Commission, is coordinated by Chalmers. Situated in Gothenburg, Sweden, Chalmers has 10,300 full-time students and 3,100 employees.”

    first thought was 3,100 employees!!!


  23. Ben,

    “That’s a conspiracy theory”.

    I wasn’t meaning that Greens got together over a few drinks in the pub and decided that they were going to deliberately dress their cunning plan to impose global socialism via the backdoor method of environmental activism. Their political instincts are socialist. The global governance solution to saving the planet from catastrophe must surely appeal strongly to those instincts. They are probably at least dimly, but more likely acutely, aware of socialism’s past failings and therefore obviously would rather push the environmentalist line than plug the reintroduction of discredited ideological systems which have failed miserably in the past, or, in the case of Trotskyism, never even made it off the starting blocks. Are they first and foremost New Age eco-loons preaching Warmist doctrine or are they covert Trotskyists? Yes.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. BENPILE (23 Aug 18 at 5:40 pm)

    The dynamics of constructing a global political order are the same, whether you’re doing it for any ends, green, red, or blue.

    ..and, applying Ben’s own insight about examining each movement in its own context, let’s note that the green global political order has actually come to pass, with the whole world signing up to Paris, (give or take a Trump hiccup and some doubts about the good faith of some signatories). Whereas the capitalist (blue) New World Order has been rejected by most of the world, and is only accepted grudgingly by its client states in Europe and its ex-colonies; while the red order remains locked in the same Eurasian bloc where it s been prevalent for the past 70-100 years, (with odd eruptions in South America and North Islington).
    The nature of the green success in imposing an ideology on an unsuspecting and unprotesting world, without democratic mandate, or even a mass movement, or even the well-argued (if misguided) political programme of the earlier versions of socialism, has still not been properly analysed. I don’t expect to persuade Jaime or anyone else that Lenin and Trotsky were nice guys, but give them credit for knowing what they wanted. They wanted Russia to be like Lancashire, but with the benefits to go to Lancastrians. They didn’t base their revolution on fantasies of a wholly new untried technology to be subsidised by the existing failing state. They just wanted to do what capitalism could do, but better, because more justly.

    Compare that with the green movement’s short march through the institutions; from NGO-backed youth movement to media exposure to Climate Change Act in one short leap, with the emergent leader of the revolution not Martov, not Lenin, but John Selwyn Gummer. That this nonentity is legally responsible for dictating government energy policy for the next x decades shocks no-one. It’s like: ”Generalissimo Franco has, with the support of ‘Young Spaniards for the Immaculate Conception’ decided to assume supreme power over the country’s long term strategic policy.” “Yeah, well, whatever.” [“Si, bueno, lo que sea”]

    There I go with my unwarranted political comparisons. See what I’m doing? Assimilating my political adversaries to rightwing extremists, just like Martin Hultman.

    But Hultman has a point. There really is a link between rightwing politicians and climate scepticism, from Senator Imhofe to the Democratic Unionists to the French Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) whose reading list for militants contains an excellent half dozen climate sceptical titles. There’s nothing surprising in that. If you’re sceptical about the direction consensus centre left/right politics is taking us, you’re likely to be sceptical about individual policies. And where better to start than a policy area which is amenable to rational discussion based on verifiable data?

    But isn’t the radical left also supposed to be sceptical of the consensus? And hasn’t the left recently throw up some fairly impressive characters, (Sanders, Corbyn, Melenchon) capable of moving the masses in a way that hasn’t been seen for decades? So how come they are bound hand and foot to the green bandwagon?

    We leftist sceptics have no real answer to this. If greens started massacring people in the millions we could claim some legitimacy as part of the “real” left resistance à la Orwell / Koestler /Trotsky. That the US and European left is hell bent on reducing the West to a Rupert Bear fantasy wind-powered culture just capable of keeping its (much reduced) population happy and well fed on organic locally grown products is a good reason, objectively, for ordinary people to support some strong man with a more vibrant, virile and hopeful vision of society.

    Which brings me, I think, by a roundabout route, to a rejection of Ben’s particularist notion that everything is sui generis and nothing can be compared (at least without grave danger of misleading.)
    To answer Voltaire’s: [life is hard] “Compared to what?” – to what it might be.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. “William Chalmers (1748-1811) had created a greater wealth from his work within the Swedish East India Company during the late 1700’s”

    “This is the analysis of Chalmers researcher Martin Hultman, Associate Professor in Science, Technology and Environmental studies, and research leader for the comprehensive project: “Why don’t we take climate change seriously? A study of climate change denial”, which is now collecting the world’s foremost researchers in this area.

    In the project, the network will examine the ideas and interests behind climate change denial, with a particular focus on right-wing nationalism, extractive industries, and conservative thinktanks”

    Martin needs to look at the founder for answers.
    ps. “which is now collecting the world’s foremost researchers in this area.” ?
    to pickle them maybe.


  26. Jaime – Their political instincts are socialist.

    Are they, though? Is it enough to say ‘The global governance solution to saving the planet from catastrophe must surely appeal strongly to those instincts’? ‘Global governance’ has appealed to lots of instincts. The problem with invoking -isms is that they are (or were) particular formulations, not general tendencies. Marx lays out socialism (hastily) like this:

    1. Abolition of private property in land and application of all rents of land to public purpose.
    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
    3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
    5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
    6. Centralization of the means of communication and transportation in the hands of the state.
    7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
    8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of Industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
    10. Free education for all children in government schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc. etc.

    No mention of CO2 reduction. But that’s by-the-by. The point being nobody told John Gummer (who Geoff mentions). And nobody told Prince Charles. Nor Dave hug-a-husky Cameron. Chris Huhne. They didn’t get the memo that they were socialists now.

    If we go back to the early days of the green movement, most of the radical and mainstream left detested it. At the time, there was a categorically conservative streak to environmentalism – the UK Green Party (pka Ecology, pla PEOPLE) was founded by Conservatives, one of the Goldsmiths amongst them. Maurice Strong is mentioned above, with some other oil tycoons, instrumental in kicking off the green agenda at the UN. You can find Paul Ehrlich, then a Republican, speaking at the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment, which had largely informed by the wealthy industrialists’ think tank, the Club of Rome and its dire outlook. It’s not necessarily the case that the desire to cede sovereignty to a supranational body is ‘socialism’. Indeed, the USSR boycotted the 1972 meeting, much of which and subsequent agendas had been supported by Nixon.

    At around the same time, the left opposed UK membership of the EC, though the Labour Party was somewhat split. They were joined by PC and the SNP. This is the opposite of the situation today, of course. But then, look how radically different the LP is now. And how different the Unions are, with their much reduced role in British politics.

    There is today of course some correspondence between contemporary green and nominally leftish tendencies. And pointing it out works rhetorically. Chances are, if there’s a leftoid, he’ll bang on about climate change at some point. But so will most conservatives. Some replies are ‘but they’re not proper conservatives’. Aye, but they ain’t proper socialists, either. We could say it isn’t proper politics.


  27. Geoff – …Ben’s particularist notion that everything is sui generis and nothing can be compared…

    Eh? I thought I had said that things SHOULD be compared, and that comparison throws up disjunctures where there is imagined (or wished) to be continuity.


  28. “If we go back to the early days of the green movement, most of the radical and mainstream left detested it. At the time, there was a categorically conservative streak to environmentalism ”

    Exactly Ben! Environmentalism used to be respectable. It involved rational, generally non-political, non-ideological people with genuine concerns about environmental pollution/degradation, people concerned about declining numbers of wild animals, flora, fauna etc. Then, in the early ’80’s, global warming hysteria started to take hold and all those numerous concerns about our impact upon local environments were subsumed by the vastly more important mission to ‘save the planet’ – because *obviously*, global warming was a higher level existential threat which trumped all those more minor concerns re. specific regional/local environments and actual problems. Hypothesised global catastrophe was a lot more sexy than boots on the ground, nitty gritty environmental activism aimed at addressing, specific, real problems. You get a lot more virtue-signaling Brownie points for campaigning to save the world than you do for campaigning to save the whale. Lots of new people jumped aboard the bandwagon as it grew and grew and grew some more, and many of those new people harboured left wing, socialist instincts precisely because the Green globalist governance and anti-capitalist solutions to what later evolved into ‘climate change’ were alluringly Red.


  29. Jaime — Exactly Ben! Environmentalism used to be respectable. It involved rational, generally non-political, non-ideological people with genuine concerns about environmental pollution/degradation, people concerned about declining numbers of wild animals, flora, fauna etc.

    Paul Ehrlich?

    Garret Hardin?

    The Club of Rome?

    Neomalthusians, all!

    They wrote the blueprint for what you now call ‘Trotskyism’!

    ETA: Your timing is about 30 years out of date, and your political compass is about 90 degrees off kilter!


  30. Here is part 2 of the same UN film.

    What it shows is that the juggernaut had momentum long before the 1980s and the climate issue, and that there was very little difference in the ‘ideology’ of the green movement either side of global warming emerging as the primary issue.

    What better accounts for the differences either side of that emphasis on climate is the failure of the outlook proffered by Ehrlich et al — in the Limits to Growth and the Population Bomb. The work climate scientists had done on GCMs to estimate the impact of nuclear war found immediate application in global warming. Check it out — many of the scientists behind nuclear winter soon became leading advocates of climate action.

    Casting further back in time, a number from that same movement had been the first in the postwar period to advocate for a science-based ‘global government’ (their words, exactly as stated) on the basis that nuclear weapons had unleashed such terrible power, it was beyond the abilities of the nation state to contain it. And indeed, many of those scientists had been behind urges to construct the bomb in the first place, to counter the threat of Germany, and had then been involved in its development.

    There can never be complete agreement on international control and the administration of atomic energy or on general disarmament until there is a modification of the traditional concept of national sovereignty. For as long as atomic energy and armaments are considered a vital part of national security no nation will give more than lip service to international treaties. Security is indivisible. It can be reached only when necessary guarantees of law and enforcement obtain everywhere, so that military security is no longer the problem of any single state. There is no compromise possible between preparation for war, on the one hand, and preparation of a world society based on law and order on the other.

    Emphasis is mine. The words are Albert Einstein’s. He continues…

    In a world Government the ideological differences between the various component parts are of no grave consequence. I am convinced that the present difficulties between the USA and the USSR are not due primarily to ideological differences. Of course, these ideological differences are a contributing element in an already serious tension. But I am convinced that even if the USA and Russia were both capitalist countries – or communist, or monarchist, for that matter – their rivalries, conflicting interests and jealousies would result in strains similar to those existing between the two countries today.

    There was nothing ‘respectable’ or ‘non-ideological’ about 1960/70s environmentalism. It was then a dark vision, led by exactly the same kind of self-serving class as it is today. And as understandable as Einstein’s desire for a ‘global government’ were in 1947, it turns out that eshewing ‘ideology’, to transcend it and the nation state is as ideological a project as any ideology’s. It wasn’t socialism when he wanted to do it in the 1940s and ’50s. It wasn’t socialism when Strong and Ehrlic wanted to do it in the 1960s and ’70s. And it wasn’t socialism when the climate warriors wanted to do it in the 1980s to the present.


  31. ben,
    Einstein’s quote is fascinating.
    It seems he was uncannily correct about Russia vs. tge US.
    Russian – American relations are dangerously bad. Yet Russia is not communist.

    OT, but is anyone following the seismic activity situation? An eccentric citizen scientist is totally kicking geophysics consensus ass.


  32. Ben, thanks for the info and the video links. You illustrate the cross fertilisation of ideas in the early development of the ‘environmental movement’ which grew out of the Malthusian doctrine of overpopulation. I would argue that the environmental activism which flourished in Britain in the 1970s and 80s was somewhat detached from those early political/ideological origins, concerning itself more with direct action on specific issues. To my mind, it was largely politically neutral, untainted by overweening ideological bias. As an illustration, consider Greenpeace and then Greenpeace UK. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, they did commendable things to protect the environment and to protect wild species within the environment. There was no “dark vision” involved in stopping French nuclear testing in the Pacific, dumping of radioactive and other toxic waste out at sea, saving grey seals from mass culls and preventing commercial whaling. Perhaps some crew members aboard the Rainbow Warrior were self-confessed neo Malthusians, but this did not detract, nor did it contribute to their sterling achievements with regard to protecting the environment from pollution and saving endangered species from reckless exploitation.

    The rot set in in the early 90s and Greenpeace progressively went downhill from there. I would argue that those early pioneers of environmental direct action drifted away to be replaced by ideologues – increasingly left wing, anti-capitalist, anti industry ideologues. The executive was infiltrated by people with no formal training in science, who put political goals ahead of scientific evidence. This is when Patrick Moore, the founder, finally abandoned the Frankenstein monster he had helped create.


  33. Jaime, I think it’s probably true that many greens come to the issues, ‘naively’, so to speak. But that’s likely very similar to many people’s entry to politics. It doesn’t negate the ‘ideological’.

    In your description of the corruption of Greenpeace, you, like Patrick Moore, put emphasis on science and politics as the corrupter of science. But I’ve always argued that even with the right science, the political claims of greens are not addressed. Science might not be enough to confront those claims.

    By ‘dark vision’, I was perhaps too poetically describing the ideas of the Mathusians in the ’60s-70s. It was a miserable outlook, amplified by the oil shock and economic crises that increasingly afflicted Britain in particular. And it was deeply ideological in the sense of mapping a design for a social and political order, and the entitlements of individuals within it. They thought of this blueprint as ‘Spaceship Earth’, and they believed it emerged from the science. I think it unlikely that many activists then were not exposed to and motivated by these ideas.

    However, that is by-the-by, because the point is not that an idea is wrong by virtue of it being ‘ideological’. Ideological ideas are still accessible to reason, logic, facts, as long as they can be contested.

    Whatever the motivations of the young greens, stopping nuclear testing and the dumping of waste out at sea, saving grey seals and preventing commercial whaling, more or less enjoyed some public sympathy. But the ‘ideological’ still cannot be excluded. The nuclear testing, for instance, was even by then, shrouded in 30 years of politics. It was driven in no small way by ideas like Einstein’s desire for a science-based ‘world government’, which, as much as it was intended to overcome ideology and other rivalries, takes on its own. Every other 2CV had an Atomkraft nein danke sticker on it.

    I say it as one who, at the time (more the late ’80s) wore extremely naive T-shirts about whales, rainforests, the ozone layer and acid rain. Debates about the facts of sustainable whaling, were mixed with the moral disgust about it. Ditto, the call for policies to protect the ozone layer were premised on precaution and scare stories, not fact. And acid rain scares turned out to have been driven by a desire for a no less corrosive policy. Naivity might be as ‘ideological’, then, as an explicit statement of a political agenda. So I would worry that, even armed with the facts, purpose and even public sympathy, the early activists had presumed too much about it being their gift to take direct action. And even then, where they were monitoring, and documenting, and making arguments in public, those arguments were often presented in sentimental and emotional ways, and were often short on fact. The grey seal, for instance, is cute in such climate as the south east of England, whereas it may be a pest or food or clothing elsewhere where there are more tangible relationships between people and animals. Conservationists traded on the jarring cultural differences that exist for example between inner London and the Arctic circle.

    That there may have been environmental activists, who were not driven by ideology, so to speak, unfortunately doesn’t undo the fact that the history of the green movement unfolded as it did. Anecdotally, there were also green campaigners outside the core of the 1972 meeting who were deeply critical of it. But their efforts were not sufficient to steer history, even if their story, like Moore’s, is interesting in their own right.

    The 1990s were interesting, not because that was when the environmental movement’s rot set in — we can see it is in large part, at the global (rather than individual) level, rotten from the outset — but because of much broader changes. There were the deep geopolitical changes caused by the collapsing Soviet bloc, and the subsequent hollowing-out of domestic politics. For the green movement, it was Brundtland who elevated the ‘observer organisations’ that can be seen in the 1972 video to a more formal platform as ‘NGOs’. (More of which I write about here. The point being that there never was a mass movement of environmentalists. It has always been a top-down political movement, and the few outsiders that did exist were soon brought in. Even if we could identify green organisations acting rightfully, on the best possible intentions, that’s not how things worked out.


  34. There’s no unbridgeable gap between Ben’s and Jaime’s position. Environmentalism as a more or less spontaneous grassroots movement appeals to people of a fairly wide social spectrum who like the countryside and stuff. Organising the world around saving the environment appeals to a much narrower band, necessarily well-educated, who like (the idea of) bossing people around. The ruling classes don’t need environmentalism because they’re already in charge; the lower classes, however much they might want to save the whale, are more bothered about the cost of living. The coalescing, or overlap, comes at a certain section of the middle classes in flux because in rapid expansion i.e. the left-leaning first generation university educated types working in academia, the media and related professions. The fact that very few people working in redbrick universities or NGOs or advertising had parents in the same professions is no doubt enormously significant for their group psychology. Their culture is rooted not in the experience of their parents and grandparents but in projections of the experience of their grandchildren. No wonder they have difficulty talking to people who live in the reality of the present.

    It’s significant for our purposes that the early environmentalist intellectuals Ben identifies as élitist and essentially authoritarian conservatives had little to say about climate change. Ehrlich’s 1974 “ARK II,” proposes world government by a UN appointed committee of experts reporting every five years on the state of the planet – the IPCC, in other words. Yet the book only mentions climate change twice, once in a warning about a coming ice age, and once to warn that the urban heat island effect would warm the world 10°F, an idea he took from one John Holdren, who later became Obama’s environment adviser.

    Yet climate hysteria is undoubtedly politically a leftwing phenomenon, and one which will probably kill the popular leftwing movements emerging around figures like Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and France’s Melenchon if they try to implement the suicidal energy policies they advocate.


  35. Geoff – There’s no unbridgeable gap between Ben’s and Jaime’s position.

    Agreed. Though some comments follow. I think a more useful tack for Jaime would have been to look at the Frankfurt School, as Rupert Darwall does, rather than Trotsky, in forming an elitist form of ‘left’ wing thinking that coincides with environmentalism. I.e. the FS left abandons the working class. Second, for Jaime’s un-political environmentalism, I’ve written before about a ‘natural environmentalism’, which doesn’t require special forms of politics to cope with real environmental problems, or to deal with preferences for conservation and green amenity. Many wind farm campaigners, for instance fit absolutely into this category (though some tend to the CPRE/NT/Green Belt tendency, which is a pity).

    Environmentalism as a more or less spontaneous grassroots movement appeals to people of a fairly wide social spectrum who like the countryside and stuff.

    This might make one of FoE and the Countryside Alliance. Or, just make the entire thing as consequential as a book club or National Trust membership. (Actually the NT did try to cast itself as a political movement, to much resistance.

    The ruling classes don’t need environmentalism because they’re already in charge; the lower classes, however much they might want to save the whale, are more bothered about the cost of living.

    The ruling classes do need something to justify their rule in lieu of meaningful democratic mandate. My favourite way of pointing this out is to invert the greens claim that ‘global problems need global solutions’: global solutions need global problems. They need it all the more when there is disparity between their aims and the needs of the lower orders.

    the early environmentalist intellectuals Ben identifies as élitist and essentially authoritarian conservatives had little to say about climate change.

    The world government ‘meme’ was unleashed by the Scientists reaction to the bomb. The Neomalthusians try to capture it in the ’60s/’70s using computer simulations of *every* conceivable interaction between society and the natural environment. A new wave of Cold War fear occurs in the 1980s, and climate scientists are employed to develop GCMs — a far narrower scope than the earlier simulations of the planet — to calculate the risks of nuclear winter. These then find application in global warming as the Cold War ends. I think it is just accidental that climate change didn’t feature quite so heavily in the first round.

    Yet climate hysteria is undoubtedly politically a leftwing phenomenon,

    I’m still not convinced. There is very little resistance to it. And it is often ‘championed’ by those outside the left, which itself barely resembles its past, if it is even a thing.


  36. Here’s an interesting video.

    By 1984, Ehrlich’s dire predictions had been proven to be utter bunk. Nonetheless, the fear of civilisation’s annihilation and Einstein’s remedy had been refreshed.

    The poor alarmist. His ecological prophecy had floundered within a decade and a bit of his publishing it. And what he latched onto for comfort would last just four short years longer.

    His last hope was Sagan’s celebrity, and the GCMs.


  37. My own recollections of environmentalism are difficult to evaluate because I moved across the Atlantic several times and environmental issues seemed to be moving along different tracks and at different speeds. In Canada in the 1970s and 1980s the main environmental concerns were acid rain in Ontario and the clubbing of baby seals in Newfoundland. The acid rain debate was almost a repeat of the air pollution-smog concerns of the 1950s and later in the UK and Europe. In fact at this time my memory suggests that air pollution was the main environmental concern of individuals, organizations and governments. This was followed by successes in the cleanup of industrial contaminated lands (Love Canal, Swansea) Much effort has been expended on the international banning of CFCs as a precursor to attempts to curtail CO2 emissions, but to me the successful international introduction of effective emissions control by, especially the EU, led more to expectations that CO2 could be controlled. Environmentalism has been extraordinarily successful in controlling some environmental problems. The cleanup of various parts of Europe and North America that I am familiar with is truly amazing (in Sudbury, Ontario emissions from a metal smelter stunted plant growth and blackened rocks for miles around. Since sulphur emissions were controlled the local museum had to preserve a small rock outcrop under glass to preserve how bad effects of the pollution were). It has probably led to aspirations being too much of an overreach and the view of the environmentally concerned that CO2 control is doable. So my view (rightly or wrongly) is that environmental expectations owe as much to past successes as to any political development.


  38. Alan — Since sulphur emissions were controlled the local museum had to preserve a small rock outcrop under glass to preserve how bad effects of the pollution were).

    I had an interesting discussion on this topic with Jonathan Jones recent, centred around Oxford, whose dreaming spires used to be black where they are now mostly the color of the rock.

    Where there had been no clean up of the surface, the old city walls looked much as they have for centuries.

    Now after clean air acts, there is far less exposure to soot.

    The question though, is are clean air acts expressions of environmentalism?

    I do not believe they are.

    1. They are not about the ‘environment’ as the natural world.

    2. One doesn’t need to measure the state of the natural world to see the sense in clean air acts.

    3. Clean air acts did not require special political institutions to pass.


  39. Ehrlich’s latest eschatonanism is about the shape of our jaws. Soft food is, he says, making our mouths too small for our tongues to move far enough forward for us to breathe properly. Unless we embrace forwardodontics (no, really), mankind will end up a snivelling, snoring, sleep-deprived wreck. Combined with other problems like climate change, this will probably trigger civilisational collapse, with the survivors of this calamity being forced to return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle – which, as it happens, will be very good for their jaw development because they will have to do more chewing and mankind will, once more, have straight teeth and no difficulty sleeping properly.

    Ehrlich’s book about this (co-written with Sandra Kahn, an orthodontist) was published in April. It has received almost zero publicity outside the world of dentistry – which is a bit sad, really. No matter how mistaken Ehrlich might have been, his analyses and forecasts used to get a lot of coverage. He was a world figure. These days? Pffft! Zilch.

    Except in the world of dentistry. Here is the conclusion of a review of _Jaws_ by three orthodontists:

    One aspect of cultural anthropology is the evaluation of how a group’s behavior is based on their beliefs. Perhaps that is the link between cultural anthropology and orthodontics. Dental orthopedists (and forwardodontists, if there are any others besides Dr. Kahn) treat patients based on their beliefs, not on evidence of treatment outcomes. That’s a cultural decision, certainly not a scientific one. In the real world of orthodontics and health care in general, even the best treatments work well in some patients, to some extent in others, and not at all in some. Only in a fantasy world can you promote the idea that your chosen treatment approach is the best for everyone, and that those who don’t use it should be condemned because they have refused to understand. In this book, the cultural anthropologist/evolutionist seems to have been misled by the orthodontist’s fantasy world.

    However it happened, the result is a deliberately misleading book that introduces an element of unwarranted fear to promote itself. The metaphor of the killer shark in the movie Jaws – an unseen and unbelieved danger until it is too late – could have been the real model for Ehrlich and Kahn as they wrote this book together. Often, collaboration of individuals from different scientific disciplines can create great synergy. In this instance, it has instead produced an exercise in mutual delusion.


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  40. Ben. blackening of stonework is unlikely to be due to the accumulation of soot, rather it is due to reaction to sulphur dioxide, which is why buildings built with Bath and Portand Stones are particularly badly affected whereas buildings of northern buildings, commonly built with sandstones, show much less blackening.

    I do not understand why you do not consider combating air pollution by clean air acts as environmentalism. You offer three arguments
    1. “They are not about the ‘environment’ as the natural world”.
    I don’t actually understand your meaning here, but the environment includes both the natural as well as the human environment. Human emissions affect both.

    2. One doesn’t need to measure the state of the natural world to see the sense in clean air acts. ”
    Why do you need to measure in order for any remedial action to be considered environmental?

    3. “Clean air acts did not require special political institutions to pass.”
    Why is this necessary? In any case acid rain has always been considered a significant environmental concern, and has required international treaties (especially the Helsinki treaty), international directives (like those by the EU controlling SO4 emissions from power plants) and creation of a commiserate to monitor compliance.


  41. Alan, I don’t know what caused the blackening of the stonework in the second picture. The walls have been been there for a very long time, and the roads they were on have been protected from vehicles for most of the history of the motor car (IIRC).

    To your not getting the point about what ‘environmentalism’ is…

    ‘the environment includes both the natural as well as the human environment’ … ‘Why do you need to measure in order for any remedial action to be considered environmental?’

    Most clean air acts were about the quality of air in cities (until we get to less sensible, or at least more debatable policies). Environmentalism is typically predicated on an particular understanding of the relationship between society and nature/natural processes, not the ‘environment’ in its abstract, broadest sense as purely that which surrounds. Put another way, what I was getting at was that one doesn’t need to be a (political) environmentalist to have thought that the Clean Air Act was a good idea. Or even that one could have agreed with the clean air act without having any sympathy for environmentalism at all.

    acid rain has always been considered a significant environmental concern, and has required international treaties (especially the Helsinki treaty), international directives (like those by the EU controlling SO4 emissions from power plants) and creation of a commiserate to monitor compliance.

    We probably disagree about acid rain and the institutional apparatus seemingly created to prevent it.


  42. Here’s a third Carl Sagan interview — one of his last according to the Youtube channel.

    The three Sagan films show an interesting development. By 1996, it should have been obvious that much of what had caused him such deep anxiety had not come to pass. However, rather than reflection on those failures, in the the post-nuclear, post-Cold War world, he turns his attention to what people believe. People who live in a technological society are not equipped to make decisions that govern such a society. The ‘combustible mixture’ of ‘ignorance and power’ is going to ‘blow up in our faces’, much as the population bomb was. And much as the nuclear winter was.

    I think this finally lets Einstein’s cat out of the bag. Whereas it was the nation state which lacked the competence to meet its role in the nuclear age, therefore requiring ‘world government’ (of scientists), Sagan determines that individuals are not competent to participate in politics in the technological age, therefore requiring his Philosopher Kings.

    Much mind-wringing of that kind has ensued in the two decades since. Much of politics as the contest of ideas has been hollowed out. Technocracy has grown in its place. Politicians have been recast as ‘policy-makers’.

    I find it hard to take Sagan in 1996 at face value. ‘Science’ seems to give scientists an ‘ideological’ free pass, though their motivations and ambitions seem nakedly political.


  43. Ben we probably don’t disagree too much about acid rain. We just disagree wether efforts made to combat it should be considered under the umbrella of “environmentalism”.

    We still disagree about wether efforts to combat air pollution should be considered part of environmentalism. You could almost be accused of excluding anything from the “-ism” that has been effective and beneficial (= your point 2).


  44. We just disagree wether efforts made to combat it should be considered under the umbrella of “environmentalism”.

    That seems to imply that there are real environmental problems, and further that your question is, if there is a real environmental problem, how can we tell whether the policy to address it is ‘environmentalism’ or not? I agree with both of these implications if I have understood your comment correctly. But I’m not moved by the idea that the urban/built/human environment is a simple extension of the natural environment, and for similar reasons, I don’t believe that indoors is an extension of the outdoors, or that the synthetic is an extension of the ‘natural’.

    To what we agree on… We were talking about air quality problems (of the pre-1960s kind, not the 2018 Sadiq Khan/Michael Gove virtue-signalling kind), and consistent with the main theme of the post, you’ve asked for a comparison with another, later problem and policy pair.

    In large part, I think you answered the point yourself. Whereas the Clean Air Act of 1956-1993 required only Parliament, acid rain “has required international treaties (especially the Helsinki treaty), international directives (like those by the EU controlling SO4 emissions from power plants) and creation of a commiserate{?} to monitor compliance”

    The EC’s Large Combustion Plant and Industrial Emissions Directives were established after the EC/EU’s absorption of environmentalism. For example, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty adds to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

    2. Community policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Community. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay. Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of other Community policies. In this context, harmonization measures answering these requirements shall include, where appropriate, a safeguard clause allowing Member States to take provisional measures, for non-economic environmental reasons, subject to a Community inspection procedure.

    Clarifying what this means, the EC published a Communication in 2000, which expanded further:

    In addition, the general principles of risk management remain applicable when the precautionary principle is invoked. These are the following five principles:

    * proportionality between the measures taken and the chosen level of protection;
    * non-discrimination in application of the measures;
    * consistency of the measures with similar measures already taken in similar situations or using similar approaches;
    * examination of the benefits and costs of action or lack of action;
    * review of the measures in the light of scientific developments.

    (Of course, the fifth point never applies where scientific development reduces the estimate of impact).

    These principles are principles of (political) environmentalism. (And they go some way to explaining the current hysteria regarding London’s air quality, which in spite of London’s air quality being cleaner than it has been for centuries by far, is routinely describe as constituting a ‘public health emergency’.)

    The Helsinki Protocol 1985 is an extension of the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, the text of which states,

    [The Parties to the present Convention,] Considering the pertinent provisions of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and in particular principle 21, which expresses the common conviction that States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction…

    We’ve seen above what happened at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment 1972. The full text of the Declaration of the conference is at http://www.un-documents.net/unchedec.htm . It informs all subsequent UN policy, and it would be hard to find a clearer expression of the “international community” both formulating and embracing a definition of environmentalism.

    The UN don’t fully embrace the Precautionary Principle until the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances 1987. Nonetheless, the Principles of the 1972 declaration and subsequently make it harder for example, for a Parliament to make its own decisions about air quality, or any other matter. The basis for which restriction is a particular conception of the ‘environment’ and environmental problems, that are far more abstract — often to the point of near-mysticism — than might be the case by a face-value treatment of the problems, and a more rational conception of the environment. Ehrlich et al, for example, and thus much of the ’72 conference laboured under a ‘holist’ and systematic conception of the planet, which they claimed was in jeopardy, according to their computers.

    It might be that even given the evidence of the time WRT to ozone and acid rain, a rational person, not burdened by green ideology, could come to the view that both issues warranted an international response, and a policy of some form equivalent to the Montreal and Helsinki protocols. But that is not how things worked out, and for as much good faith as there could be motivating such a view, there were the Ehrlich’s, the Strongs, and the others more bent on the acquisition of power, frankly, on the basis of a wholly irrational conception of the ‘environment’. Put even more bluntly, if global environmental problems didn’t exist (!) global environmental bureaucracies would have to invent them.

    To your other point… You could almost be accused of excluding anything from the “-ism” that has been effective and beneficial (= your point 2).

    I don’t deny that environmental problems exist. As it happens, I think (political) environmentalism is more concerned with problems which don’t exist than with problems that do exist (because problems which do not exist lend the policy maker more political utility), and which Jaime, for example, is much better placed to enumerate than I. I call the distinction one between ‘natural’ and ‘abstract’ environmentalism. I agree with what Jaime claims — that the former is not so clearly ‘ideological’ (though I take a much broader view of what is ‘ideological’ than most) as the latter. So for instance, where a river is polluted, the natural environmentalist might have a reasonable objection and the reach of a policy might be precluded or ameliorated by a sensible cost-benefit analysis at the level of local authority or national parliament, abstract environmentalism OTOH, would appeal to a putative global context and a correspondingly global court, even though the pollution itself had no global tangible consequence beyond highly speculative hypotheses and precautionary rubric.

    Or, put more simply, the Clean Air Act 1956 was passed by MPs with substantial support from the public, without the interventions of NGOs and supranational political organisations, without the use of mystical conceptions of ‘nature’, computer simulations, or end-of-the-world scenarios. Unlike, that is, acid rain, ozone and global warming treaties.


  45. Ben. Looks like I was wrong, yet in substance I feel I can, with justification, continue the contest. Consulting that great universal authority Wikipedia upon the meaning of the term “environmentalism” I discover no support whatsoever for my view that the term involves the urban environment. All mention is of the “natural” environment – although that word is not defined. Thus I concede, the Clean Air Act, which was designed to remedy problems caused by urban air pollution, strictly speaking therefore is not part of enviromentalism sensu stricto.
    But then I recall flying over parts of China and looking down to see smog spilling out of cities and towns to fill every landscape depression. From horizon to horizon all was smog with only the highest ranges of mountains sticking out. There was no separation between urban and “natural” environment. This led me to remember my childhood. I was an asthmatic boy living in East London. During the worst 1950s smogs I was sent to live with my rural Essex relatives. It did no good, London’s most severe smogs spread out to encompass the surrounding countryside. There is no sharp distinction between maintaining an acceptable urban or “natural” environment.
    It seems to me that excluding the urban environment, because it is not “natural” runs into the much older dispute that humans are not part of the natural world, but are somehow separate. This being part of the Judeo-Christian ethic that humans have dominion over the natural world. This viewpoint has, in the eyes of many, been the root cause of many environmental problems.
    To me, you should not split off urban environments as being different. The natural (=non urban) world interacts with the city, town and village environment in so many ways and in both directions.

    Furthermore “environmentalism” is just a word. I (incorrectly it would seem) was equating the term with “concern with environmental matters”. My argument was the successes in reducing urban air pollution was accomplished by those concerned with the environment (in this case largely urban) and these successes probably gave impetus to solving other environmental problems – acid rain, land despoilation and ecological disturbance. From there ozone and climate change. To deny the success of combating air pollution in the drive to remedy perceived global problems is, in my view, incorrect. But our dispute is not really an important one.


  46. Alan, I am not too concerned with the authorised versions of words. In the course of my blogging, in which I tried to understand/explain environmentalism it soon became apparent that it is indeed a broad term. So I had to work hard to be explicit about what *I* meant by it, since there was relatively little work even by environmentalists to explain what *they* meant by it, there being no Adam Smith or Karl Marx of environmentalism, in spite of Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s various attempts to reformulate the unformulated (from the Death of Environmentalism, to New Environmentalism, to EcoModernism).

    The problem being that, if we took the widest of the terms, we would have to lump in Jaime’s non-political, science-based environmentalism, with John Selwyn-Gummer’s cronyist rent-seeking greenery with Kingsnorth’s anarchic deep ecology and the UNFCCC. I don’t think that is possible. Along the way, (and mostly in real life) I met a number of ‘greens’ who didn’t fit any box. They lived, or aspired to sustainable lifestyles, got much reward from nature, but were almost as sceptical of the political process as I was. Others had been green since before I had been born,and had experimented with communal living and self-sufficiency since the early 1970s but had their world view turned upside down when the wind farm arrived. How could I possibly criticise that — those personal decisions and lifestyle experiments — in the same paragraphs as I was critcial of the IPCC?

    So when I use the word, I’m trying to be particular about ‘environmentalism’ as a political idea. It’s therefore almost entirely aimed at the people who demand that we all live according to the specifications of their spreadsheet, and that to resist is to be in the pay of big oil in defiance of a Consensus of those who know better. To the people actually experimenting with green lifestyles, I can wish only goodwill and more power to their elbows, even if I think they are, occasionally, crazy.


  47. Hi Ben
    just to add to your “the people who demand that we all live according to the specifications of their spreadsheet” point.

    this in the Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/26/climate-change-is-real-we-must-not-offer-credibility-to-those-who-deny-it

    “If balance’ means giving voice to those who deny the reality of human-triggered climate change, we will not take part in the debate, say Jonathan Porritt, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis and 57 other writers, politicians and academics

    Liked by 1 person

  48. Prof Mark Maslin refers to that that motley crew of writers, politicians and assorted academics as ‘climate scientists’. Looking at the mediocrity of so many climate scientists nowadays, the Freudian slip is perhaps understandable.


  49. ‘Climate change is not
    a matter for debate.’
    Plate tectonics is not
    a matter of debate.’
    Evolution is not
    a matter of debate.’
    Earth’s age is not
    a matter of debate.
    Earth centered solar
    system is not
    a matter


  50. Beth. Your point is? I doubt if there is anyone here who disputes climate change has occurred, but plenty who will argue about its cause, future magnitude and what, if anything, to do about it. Just as few would dispute plate tectonics but quite a few who would still dispute its precise mechanism. I think you’re wrong about evolution as many religious magazines still attest.
    The odd thing is, I would love to debate someone who disputes plate tectonics or evolution. I’d blow them out of the water. What are the Guardian’s gang of multitudes so worried about – giving credence to their opponents? – pull the other one!


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