George Monbiot writes for the UK Guardian newspaper and he is perhaps the most influential green blogger in Europe. This week, beginning with a blog on 2 May and a follow-up several days latter, he discussed the problems within the green movement. The title of his 2 May posting is “Let’s face it: none of our environmental fixes break the planet-wrecking project”. His subtitle for that posting is:”All of us in the green movement are lost before the planet’s real nightmare: not too little fossil fuel—but too much”.
Monbiot is a believer in catastrophic global warming resulting from fossil fuel use (the “planet-wrecking project”). And his preferred solution is “sustainability” which means to allocate resources and wealth across the globe while at first reducing and eventually eliminating fossil fuel use. Ultimately world societies would become less complicated and perhaps more agrarian. De-developing the Western societies while developing those nations that are second and third world will be necessary to accomplish this. A tenet of sustainability is that governments will have to exercise more control to assure the outcomes. Saying it differently, you will surrender much of your freedom to the UN or some like group.
He was hoping that fossil fuels would become less available but he laments, that is not the case.
This posting is not to dispute Mr. Monbiot’s premise of catastrophic global warming due to fossil fuel uses, but rather to examine his view of the sects within the AGW crowd and their differences in beliefs. To begin, Mr. Monbiot is not my kind of guy. When John Bolton, our UN Ambassador, traveled to England in 2008, Monbiot wanted to arrest him and try him for war crimes. Monbiot also began a campaign to have then Prime Minister Blair taken to court on similar charges related to the Iraq war. His thoughts on things he thinks we should be doing, IMHO, demonstrate a low level of economic reality and a love of “Big Brother”. Although our worldviews are quite different, he is quite intelligent so we need to keep track of what he is thinking.
He begins his first posting regarding discussions with his fellow warmers like this:”You think you’re discussing technologies, and you quickly discover that you’re discussing belief systems. The battle among environmentalists over how or whether our future energy is supplied is a cipher for something much bigger: who we are, whom we want to be, how we want society to evolve. Beside these concerns, technical matters – parts per million, costs per megawatt hour, cancers per sievert – carry little weight. We choose our technology – or absence of technology – according to a set of deep beliefs: beliefs that in some cases remain unexamined”.
He makes sense when he defends his recent acceptance of nuclear energy as a vital need going forward, with or without fossil fuels: “The case against abandoning nuclear power, for example, is a simple one: it will be replaced either by fossil fuels or by renewables that would otherwise have replaced fossil fuels. In either circumstance, greenhouse gases, other forms of destruction and human deaths and injuries all rise”.
“The case against reducing electricity supplies is just as clear. For example, the Zero Carbon Britain report published by the Centre for Alternative Technology urges a 55% cut in overall energy demand by 2030 – a goal I strongly support. It also envisages a near-doubling of electricity production. The reason is that the most viable means of decarbonising both transport and heating is to replace the fuels they use with low-carbon electricity. Cut the electricity supply and we’re stuck with oil and gas. If we close down nuclear plants, we must accept an even greater expansion of renewables than currently proposed. Given the tremendous public resistance to even a modest increase in windfarms and new power lines, that’s going to be tough”.
He believes that “accommodation” (read sustainability) is the goal but he says:”But even if we can accept an expansion of infrastructure, the technocentric, carbon-counting vision I’ve favoured runs into trouble. The problem is that it seeks to accommodate a system that cannot be accommodated: a system that demands perpetual economic growth. And adds: Accommodation makes sense only if the economy is reaching a steady state”.
He has been criticized in Simon Fairlie’s posting in the magazine The Land. To which he responds:”There’s a still bigger problem here: even if we make provision for some manufacturing but, like Fairlie, envisage a massive downsizing and a return to a land-based economy, how do we take people with us? Where is the public appetite for this transition?”
Monbiot adds that: “A third group tries to avoid such conflicts by predicting that the problem will be solved by collapse: doom is our salvation. Economic collapse, these people argue, is imminent and expiatory. I believe this is wrong on both counts”.
He then gets to his central point about too much fossil fuel: “The problem we face is not that we have too little fossil fuel, but too much. As oil declines, economies will switch to tar sands, shale gas and coal; as accessible coal declines, they’ll switch to ultra-deep reserves (using underground gasification to exploit them) and methane clathrates“.
Monbiot sums up his view of the current state of the environmental movement:”All of us in the environment movement, in other words – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project”.
In his second posting is “The green problem: how do we fight without losing what we are fighting for?”. It is subtitled: “Environmentalism is stuck-factional and uncertain even of the goals we seek. But we must face facts and engage in reality.”
In this posting he expands upon the point he made in the first posting and he adds some interesting things. He enumerats the disagreements that he believes permeate the green community: “We have no idea what to do next. We have no idea what to do next. Partly as a result, we have started tearing each other apart. This is an understandable but unnecessary reaction. Those seeking to protect the landscape are not our enemies; nor are those advocating that renewables should replace fossil fuel; nor are those promoting nuclear power as the answer; nor are those opposing nuclear power. We are all struggling with the same problem, all bumping up against atmospheric chemistry and physical constraints”.
“The enmity arises when people go into denial. Denial is everywhere. Those opposing windfarms find it convenient to deny that climate change is happening, or that turbines produce much electricity. Those promoting windfarms downplay the landscape impacts. Nuclear enthusiasts ignore the impacts of uranium mining. Opponents of nuclear power dismiss the solid science on the impacts of radiation and embrace wildly-inflated junk numbers instead. Primitivists decry all manufacturing industry, but fail to explain how their medicines and spectacles, scythes and billhooks will be produced. Localists rely on technologies – such as microwind and high-latitude solar power – that cannot deliver. Technocratic greens refuse to see that if economic growth is not addressed, a series of escalating catastrophes is inevitable. Romantic greens insist that the problem can be solved without even engaging in these dilemmas, yet fail to explain how else it can be done”.
“We’re all responding to the same impulses, but we’re all being tripped up by denial. Denial, and a failure to see the whole picture, are our enemies. Or perhaps, as doctors say about alcohol, our false friends”.
He cites Paul Kingsnorth’s posting titled “The quants and the poets”. Quants are numbers/facts people and poets are people that examine societies values and underlying mythology. Kingsnorth’s posting is very well written and he too contrasts the various divergent opinions alive in the green world today. He believes that Monbiot is loosing his credentials as a Poet.
Monbiot responds to this quants/poets issue here: “Perhaps we are less tolerant of myth than we used to be. Perhaps we should be. Is creating new, opposing myths the best way of confronting the founding myths of neoliberal capitalism? I don’t think so. Is it not better to fight them with withering analysis, quantification and exposure? But can we do this without becoming insensible to beauty, and to the impulse – a love for the world and its people, its places and its living creatures – which turned us green in the first place? I don’t know”.
Well this has been a long post and I thank all of you that read it all the way to the end.