Ever since the start of the Great Recession, we’ve noticed the weird Catch-22 that dogmatic environmentalists find themselves in. In 2009, when pushing cap and tax, John Kerry said:
The United States has already this year alone achieved a 6 percent reduction in emissions simply because of the downturn in the economy, so we are effectively saying we need to go another 14 percent.
“Well, the good news is, our [carbon] emissions are way down because of the recession. I mean, really, if you want to find a silver lining in the cloud, the number that we were looking for [with cap and trade legislation] … we are well, well [ahead of our goal]…because we have had such a real drop in manufacturing output.”
At least one prominent radical environmentalist has finally discovered his ideology’s trap. Or as Walter Russell Mead puts in a great post at the American Interest, “Top Green Admits: ‘We Are Lost!’”
[George Monbiot of the Guardian] also acknowledges the contradictory and inconsistent nature of the green solutions. He acknowledges that there is no prospect for democratic politics to impose the draconian limits on consumption and economic activity that green dogma requires. Every ‘solution’ the greens have come up with has a fatal flaw of some kind; none of it works, none of it makes any sense. As Monbiot concludes,“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. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order.”
This is an awesome admission of categorical intellectual, political and moral failure. For two decades greens have arrogated to themselves the authority of science and wrapped themselves in the arrogant certainty of self-righteous contempt for those who oppose them. They have equated skepticism about their incoherent and contradictory policy proposals with hatred of science and attacked their critics as the soulless hired shills of the oil companies, happy to ruin humanity for the sake of some corporate largesse.
Monbiot has worked his way through to a cogent description of the dead end the global green movement has reached, but he has not yet diagnosed the cause. In particular, he remains a staunch Malthusian. In his view, humanity is good at creating new ways to destroy itself, but not at finding solutions to the problems we create. Our ingenuity is magically good at finding new fossil fuels, but we have no skill whatsoever at managing the consequences of our discoveries. The unknown technologies of the future will create horrible new disasters, but they will offer no new ways to contain or manage the disruption they cause.
Economic growth is a cancer, in this view. Its bad effects are permanent and cumulative, its blessings are evanescent and ultimately trivial. [Emphasis mine -- Ed]
Malthusianism is a religious conviction that desperately needs to think of itself as a science. From Thomas Malthus and his mathematical certainties to Paul Ehrlich with his famine timetables and the Club of Rome with its ‘scientific’ predictions of resource exhaustion, Malthusians have made confident predictions about the future and claimed scientific authority for statements that turned out to be contemptibly silly. That is the brutal fate that often awaits people who can’t keep the boundaries between science and religion straight.
Earlier this year, when many of his fellow members of the left were ready to immediately junk nuclear power after Japan’s mammoth earthquake, Monbiot was sensible enough to adopt a contrarian position — or as Claire Berlinski quipped at Ricochet back in mid-March, “George Monbiot Goes Nuclear and I Give Up Predicting the World:”
Monbiot is the Great Leftist Enviroweirdo of all time, so when I read one of his columns and find myself nodding enthusiastically, it either means there’s hope for the world or that the physicists are right about the Brane Multiverse and I’ve just dropped into one of the alternatives by means of a metaphysical accident:
You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.
A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.
What can I say? You’re right, George Monbiot.
Wow, roll that sentence around in your mouth a bit. You’re right, George Monbiot. Doesn’t that feel weird? It’s kind of messing with my mind, I have to say. It’s making me wonder if the sun’s even going to rise tomorrow.