Tue, Apr 21, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Fading green

The green lobby simply isn’t up to the challenge of mobilizing nations in the war on global warming

By Will Hutton  /  THE GUARDIAN

The green movement as it stands should receive the last rites. Its only hope is for a complete overhaul. Its mystic, utopian view of nature and its attachment to meaningless notions such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle should be done away with. It is time to move on.

Or so says Professor Anthony Giddens in his new book, The Politics of Climate Change. It is not that Giddens disputes that mankind is dangerously warming up the planet. The scientific evidence is overwhelming; the risk of a global calamity all too real.

It’s just that he has the chutzpah to acknowledge what is obvious. Despite the threat and the mounting evidence, there is no hope of mobilizing Western governments and the public into action by appeals to green utopianism or impossible demands to give up our current standard of living. There needs to be a new language, a focus on climate change alone, because that is what counts and is a practical route forward that makes sense to the mass of people. Otherwise, we really are lost.

Giddens curiously and paradoxically overlaps with other recent polemics against environmentalists. Yet Giddens is not a global-warming skeptic like Lawson, who disputes even the evidence of science. But he does understand Lawson’s impatience with some of the daffy thinking that surrounds the environmental debate and tries to replace it with some tougher ideas.

How, he asks, are we ever to mobilize public opinion about distant threats that inevitably feel not very real? By the time it is proven that the scientists were right, it will be too late to do anything. The inhabitants of Easter Island who destroyed their own ecosystem are a warning. Human beings are myopic. Now the same myopia is evident globally. We have to do better, not least to see off the siren-like arguments of the Nigel Lawsons.

The first problem is that the green movement is shot through with contradictory impulses. Prince Charles and the G20 protesters cannot realistically muster under the same intellectual and political banner. Charles has the conservatives’ reverential attitude toward the enduring and natural forces of nature. His love of nature is genuine, but it segues seamlessly into his view that monarchy is as much part of the natural order as the seasons. Nobody is trying to keep global temperature growth to below 2ºC to save the Windsors.

On the other wing of the green movement, the G20 protesters interpret climate change as proof of the evils of capitalism and the capitalist state. They say there needs to be a return to the local and a new radical left politics. The state should be broken down. Capitalism should be superseded by local co-operative enterprise and local political decision-making. Food should be organic. Trade should be constrained. Air travel and car use radically reduced. And so on.

The vast majority are unmoved. Worse, many mainstream environmental intellectuals drop rigor when it comes to the environment, climate change and risk. Under the precautionary principle, almost nothing should be done that endangers the climate, just in case the worst scientific warnings are right. The aim should be sustainable development — to grow economically in a way that passes the globe on to the next generation in the same condition in which we found it.

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