The great strategic error of the green movement

We have witnessed scenes of appalling devastation in recent weeks as a sequence of hurricanes has caused havoc in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. First Hurricane Harvey dumped vast quantities of rainwater on Houston; then Irma flattened many islands; now, at the time of writing, Maria has blasted Dominica and Puerto Rico.

In the face of such damage and suffering there are many arguing that there is a link with global warming. The Guardian, for example, carried a column by Bill McKibben comparing these hurricanes to the time when a long-time smoker starts coughing up blood – it is not that there will be bad consequences of our choices in the future, rather, the bad consequences are here, now.

The underlying point is that our human activity has caused this bad weather. There is one straightforward sense in which this is true, which is that if the climate is getting warmer (which it is) then there will, over time, be more energy available to produce these hurricanes. Yet this argument, especially when compared to the link between smoking and lung cancer, runs together arguments that should remain separate.

The first way in which it misleads is that it is not known how far the amount of warming that the climate is experiencing is being driven by natural variability rather than human activity, something which is known as ‘climate sensitivity’. There are different estimates for this, which are being adjusted regularly as the science evolves. At present, the best estimate for the human element – that is, what might be attributed to a doubling of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere – is around 1.5°C. (Source) It should be noted that this is much less than is claimed by what might be called the ‘alarmists’, and is difficult to pick out from the natural variability of the climate.

The second way in which this misleads is that it makes the science of hurricanes rather more simple than it actually is. The heat of the water is not the only factor that can lead to more intense hurricanes. This year it would appear that a significant factor is the very low amount of ‘wind-shear’ (cross winds) that would normally work to lessen hurricanes but this year has had the opposite effect. There is no clear link between wind-shear and global warming.

In simple terms, when someone like McKibben makes the comparison with cancer caused by smoking he is distorting the truth. Sadly, McKibben is not the only one. Whenever in recent weeks I have read an article about the hurricanes that claims some attribution to global warming caused by human industries I think about all the times that green writers complain about people, noticing snow outside, and saying ‘so much for global warming’. The plural of anecdote is not data, they say, and this is true. Just because it is snowing in England does not, of itself, invalidate a broader climate shift.

The same is true for hurricanes. Just because we have had a bad hurricane – or even a bad hurricane season – this does not, of itself, signify a climate shift. There would need to be a sustained pattern of change before we can confidently say that there is a phenomenon that needs explanation, let alone agree on what the explanation might be. If we look at the last ten years, we can see that there has been no rise in the number of hurricanes in the Caribbean.

My real worry is that, by placing so much emphasis upon global warming in their general advocacy, the green movement has built their house upon sand – and when the rains and the storms come, that house will fall down.

What I mean is that the green movement has really emphasised global warming as the problem that dwarfs all other problems. In doing this they have done two things: hitched their wagon to science, and a science that is not especially robust; and put to one side the much richer insights that previous generations of green thinkers have pursued.

What I have in mind are the wider, more spiritual aspects of green thinking, as best exemplified by someone like EF Schumacher and his ‘Small is Beautiful’. If we reflect upon what it means to be human, and what gives value to our lives, then we will be less concerned to fill our lives with more and more stuff, and more concerned to ensure that our natural environment is kept healthy, so that we in turn might remain healthy too. We would seek patterns of human living that emphasise a respect for all creatures, including other human beings in all their diversity – and be willing to protect our own elements of that diversity too. We would by more fully aware of all the diverse ways in which we are hitting the Limits to Growth – which, in contrast to climate science, has models that have been vindicated over time – and we would seek to tread lightly on the earth, in harmony with the natural rhythms of this wonderful world that we live in. We will, most of all, regain a much healthier understanding of the place of science within a wider and wiser understanding of our lives as a whole.

Such an approach would, I believe, have much more resonance than one that has become absorbed into a technocratic and bureaucratic juggernaut that has left concerns for basic truth behind (for more on why, see the jaw-dropping exposé of the IPCC process written by Donna LaFramboise).

People have a good, stout sense of when someone is talking rubbish to them. Sadly, the green movement has been rumbled on this point, and talk about global warming is now tuned out. The cost for this is immense. The green movement has something essential to contribute to the national conversation, at scales both small and great, yet their over-investment in one particular ecological scare has meant that their voice has been eclipsed, and a generation of activism has been wasted. I would respectfully suggest that, if the green movement wants to make more headway in our present society, they need to stop talking about global warming for a while.

2016: the year the bubble burst


One of my favourite jokes is: a hundred thousand lemmings can’t be wrong! I like it because it is absurd, it is closely related to a philosophical type of argument called a reductio ad absurdum, and I like it because – once the requisite irony of the delivery is appreciated – it contains an immense and important truth.

That truth is simply this: just because everyone you know agrees with you, that doesn’t mean that you are right. You might simply be joining in with a crowd of small mammals joyfully committing suicide by jumping off a cliff, in obedience to long-defunct biological imperatives.

The interesting thing happens when a lemming realises that they are in fact a human being and stop and say ‘is this really the way that we want to go?’ (Doubtless many will say that this is a good metaphor for Brexit – that by deciding to leave the European Union the British population have decided to jump off a cliff, and the result will be messy and bloody. That is the sort of comforting lie that we tell ourselves when reality becomes too painful to be coped with immediately.)

After all, what 2016 has demonstrated, on both sides of the Atlantic, is that those in positions of power and authority and influence do not have any clue what is going on. They have manipulated the levers of power in order to maintain the status quo, in order to ensure that the world remains safe for global corporate capitalism, and yet the results have not reflected their choices.

I would say: the bubble within which they have been operating has finally burst. That bubble, that echo-chamber, that closed circuit has been dominant for many decades. It has been marked, as all religions are marked, by clearly expected standards of speech and behaviour, with shibboleths relating to the treatment of minorities and women, where transgressions lead to expulsion from the community.

What has happened this year is that the illusion of dominance and inevitable victory for that religious perspective has been shattered. The world does not operate according to the central tenets of political correctness. There are people whose suffering was not taken account of by that dominant ideology, and their numbers – of those who suffer and those who care about those who suffer – are now large enough to cause electoral earthquakes.

Earthquakes that were not seen; at least, not seen by those who have relied upon the official prognosticators and opinion formers and tea-leaf readers commonly known as pollsters. Why not? Simply because, as mentioned above, if you believe something that falls outside of the bubble then the bubble will react angrily and aggressively against you. You will be bullied at escalating levels of intensity until you repent of your transgressive thoughts. You might lose your job; you will at least lose some friends. In this sort of environment is it surprising that people keep their views to themselves until that one private space wherein their preferences might actually have some impact?

The reason why the bubble has burst, why the illusions have shattered, why the genie will never get back into the bottle is that all those of us on the outside of the bubble, who have watched the creeping madness and group-think take over and destroy so much of virtue and value in Western society – we now know that we are not alone. On the contrary, we have the momentum, we have the numbers, we have reality on our side. We refuse to go over the cliff.

Such language might alarm. Does this mean that we are going to watch a replay of the 1930s, with Trump as Hitler, and Farage as his bag-carrier? No, it really doesn’t – and the dominance of that narrative simply shows what the principal factors were which formed the politically correct bubble in the first place. These are the long-defunct biological imperatives that are driving the lemmings over their cliff. Put simply, the West was so traumatised by the experience of the Third Reich that it has chosen to do everything possible to prevent a recurrence, up to and including cultural suicide.

The paradox is that there is an ideology abroad today which has very clear and direct philosophical and cultural links with the Third Reich, which insists upon traditional roles for women, which is radically anti-semitic and excludes ethnic minorities from all positions of power and influence, which prescribes the death penalty for homosexuality, and which is committed to the path of violence and terrorism in order to pursue those objectives.

It is because more and more people are aware of the threat that this ideology poses to us that the bubble has burst. The bubble has prevented a full and vigorous engagement with the threat; it has instead acted to incubate the threat within our own society; and people have had enough.

Yes, there are direct economic interests in play as well. The promises of the bubble have not been kept; whole communities have been cut off from any increase in prosperity – rather the reverse; and all the while the spectacle of fat cats filleting their company’s pension systems before pushing their employees over a financial cliff has fostered the disaffection that is now too obvious to ignore.

This crisis has been decades in the making, and will take many years yet to fully unravel. It will not be a gentle time. What are our tasks for the months and years ahead?

Those of us who have been outside the bubble for some time have, I believe, to ponder one essential question: how can we remain civilised in the context of the coming conflict? To put that slightly differently, and more personally, how can we remain Christian and not succumb to Nazism? How can we insist upon the priority of one form of life in this nation – one that actually does preserve all the progressive achievements of our culture – without scapegoating a minority? On that question will this generation be judged.

For those who have been within the bubble, I am bold to offer some advice. The first and most important advice is simply: don’t assume that those who disagree with your views are racist, homophobic, sexist reprobates. That has been the default assumption for so long that those words have lost their power in the same way that they have lost their accuracy. If you reflexively reach for those insults in discussion with Brexiters and Trumpers then you simply commit yourselves to leaping from the cliff with greater conviction.

The second bit of advice is simply: listen. Those of us outside the bubble don’t have all the answers, and if we are to preserve a civilised society in this land then the polarisation of argument is not going to help us achieve that end. We have to work together. Yet that cannot happen if one side believes that the other is morally beyond the pale, an incarnation of barbarism, a return to fascism. No, we need you to listen. We need you to recognise that the bubble has burst, that there might be truth outside your world-view, and that a little humility on your part would go a very long way.

If this does not happen; if bubble-dwellers double-down on the rightness of their perspective; if they continue to turn towards violence and anti-democratic methods in order to insist upon the rectitude of cliff-leaping – then, in that case, I am gravely concerned for the future of our country and our civilisation. The stakes here are very high, and it is the lack of awareness of those stakes that seems to me to most characteristic of the bubble.

We have a future to build, a future which may yet be much better than what has been before. If we want that future to be bright, we are going to have to build it together, outside the bubble.