How environmentalism turned to the dark side.
Over the best part of the last two decades, the twin delusions that we’re destroying the planet and that we have to completely restructure civilisation to somehow save it, have taken root and gripped the popular psyche of the West.
The first notion had its origins in the early seventies, when people finally recognised and began organised protests against the reckless and all too visible pollution of the environment by various industrial businesses. It was then that nearly all the big environmental organisations of today came into being. In the following decades, the environmental movement mutated drastically. It became something that was no longer simply about cherishing and being a good steward of nature, but about saving the very planet, by the imposition of oppressive social change and what amounted to the deindustrialisation of the developed world.
How did this change come about? The answer, as so often happens, is in the history of the thing, so let’s go back over it.
By the early eighties, after a decade of anti-pollution campaigning, it was no longer socially acceptable for industry to trash the environment, as some sort of unavoidable collateral damage in making a product. That was a remarkable achievement in so short a time. One of the reasons the original movement had been so successful, was that its makeup was essentially bi-partisan; it wasn’t about your own particular politics but the common interest all of you shared in stopping the wanton destruction of the environment. Since the idea that industrial development did not have to come at the price of destroying the environment was now mainstream thinking, then in terms of a change in mindset, the big job had been done.
Any campaigning movement that has achieved its aims, either disbands or sets itself new ones. At that point, a lot of people either quietly resigned from those environmental organisations or slowly drifted away from them, which was the option chosen by most of them. Certainly, the thinking at the time by a lot of people was that the movement had achieved its main aims and there couldn’t be much harm in leaving it to the next generation, to continue pursuing the founding ideals.
You have to bear in mind that in those days, there were few, if any, salaried employees in any of the organisations; they mostly worked on the basis of volunteers giving up their free time to help out with various activities. Personally, I was one of those who thought it was time to move on to other things.
Throughout most of the eighties, the movement looked for something big to fight but there really wasn’t much around, compared to the substantial issues it had championed in its early years. Its campaigns, though on relatively minor issues, became more strident and it looked more like it was generating publicity for itself, rather than any particular cause. Increasingly, it looked like a campaigning movement that had run out of steam and reached the end of its useful life.
What really changed the situation, was the implosion of the USSR in the early nineties. Basically, this cut the more extreme elements of the Left adrift in the West. For seventy years, they’d always had support, both ideological and to some extent financial, from the USSR and now it was all over. The extreme Left, like the extreme Right, have never been that numerous and perhaps because of that, are both good at piggy backing on or subverting other popular movements. The drifting environmental movement by that stage, was a fruit more than ready to be picked.
While it dithered around over what new direction to take, it was slowly hijacked by a new generation of extremist left-wing elements, who’d been left without an ideological home after the fall of the USSR. This subversion didn’t happen overnight but at a certain point, it became obvious to all that it had occurred, even to the founder members of the flagship environmental organisations, such as Greenpeace or the WWF. All the major environmental groups gradually became exclusively left-wing, with anyone of moderate, never mind right-wing politics, forced out of leadership positions. Environmentalism was no longer about the environment but about exploiting the environment as a method to advance what were essentially leftist and anti-capitalist policies.
In a real sense, the environmental movement gradually became the home of people, whose natural political inclinations in previous decades, would have led to them joining parties of the traditional left or extreme left. This tendency was exacerbated by the centrist politics of the nineties. Economic times were very good and in such times, electorates simply don’t vote for parties of any political stripe, who are advocating anything radical. The result of this was that the mainstream parties, of both the left and right, fought for the centre political ground, becoming practically no different in terms of policy.
What has to be recognised, is that the policies being put forward to protect the environment, were in so many cases, indistinguishable from classical Marxist-Leninist doctrine. That may appear to be a harsh assessment, but when you take a hard look at those policies, it’s plain to see. They just changed a few names, but the underlying policies being advocated were and are exactly the same.
Instead of selling the populace the dream of a coming Worker’s Utopia, sell them the vision of getting back to some equally mythical Garden of Eden. Instead of telling them they had to fight Capitalism or be exploited by it, tell them that they had to fight Capitalism, because it was destroying the Earth. Instead of telling them that individual liberty had to be sacrificed in the greater interest of the state, tell them it had to be minutely controlled in the greater interest of the environment. Instead of the state controlling and using all the organs of the media as propaganda outlets, let an overwhelmingly left-wing media, do it for you voluntarily. Any opposition to the movement was never to have a platform.
Compulsive and obsessive control had to be exerted on all individuals, right down to what lightbulbs they were to be permitted to use in their own homes. It was about saving the very planet. Given such a historic mission, any dissent with the official orthodoxy was not to be engaged with, but instead ruthlessly suppressed by any and all means.
Whichever way you look at it, it all adds up to a creeping variety of very old-fashioned totalitarianism.
Climate science was seduced into the environmental movement, with the politically useful role of producing an endless stream of authoritative but increasingly scary predictions. Its most high-profile practitioners gradually became what can only be described as the media stars of the movement, but what actually happened, was the more they sucked greedily on the teat of notoriety, the more they degenerated into nothing more than advocates, masquerading as scientists. The usage of the phrase “the cause” in the Climategate emails, is particularly telling about their mindset.
As the science became more alarmist and came under increasing outside scrutiny, their efforts shifted to not only defending it, but actively suppressing any research that wasn’t in agreement with it. They withheld data, conspired with each other to delete emails, perverted the peer review process and intimidated individuals and science journals, who wouldn’t toe the official line. In short, they circumvented the whole scientific method, instead deciding to practice what came to be known as post-normal science.
By the turn of the century, we were locked into a repetitive and escalating spiral of climate alarmism. As each successively worse prediction of doomsday came out, it was fed by the political activists and the scientists to the media, who sensationalised it even more, thus scaring electorates even further. The more the perceived danger to the Earth rose up the list of people’s concerns, the more it came to the politicians’ attention as an issue on which votes could be earned, so they pandered to it more and more, because they had to. In the end, confronted with what was possibly the end of civilisation, the extremist solutions being advocated to avert it looked more than acceptable.
In the midst of an extraordinarily long upswing in the economic cycle, everyone was happy. The politicians were getting votes, the scientists were getting billions of dollars of research money thrown at them, the financial industry was making billions trading carbon instruments, the media had a practically guaranteed stream of sensationalist articles, the people felt virtuous saving the planet and the political extremists looked set to get their policies implemented.
For a number of reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere, that upward spiral of hysteria was eventually broken by the end of the decade. The environmental movement, like all populist movements, had to always be moving forward, because once they lose that forward momentum, they start sliding backwards. They’ve been sliding backwards on all fronts for the last three years and it’s accelerating.
The easy explanation for what the environmental movement mutated into, is to say that it was some sort of global conspiracy to subvert Western democracy, but while I’m quite confident that conspiracies at a group level can and do exist, anything global would tear itself apart in the long-term, if only because of the inevitable conflicting interests of the various parties. That’s not to say that tactical cooperation between groups with radically different ideological drivers isn’t possible. It certainly is. When you consider the carbon trading market was an idea being pushed by all environmental organisations, big capitalist financial backers, who stood to make a lot of money, and fundamentally corrupt corporations like Kenneth Lay’s energy giant Enron, you can plainly see such cooperation is possible, just as long as there’s a sufficient overlap of interests.
Around the world, the movement is in retreat and with every passing day, that retreat is turning into a rout, as the political backing and financial support melts away ever faster. There are still a few governments trying to press on with financing the green dream, but they’re running out of money and their increasingly unemployed electorates, are rapidly running out of patience with them too. At some point, the inevitable political correction will be made and a number of careers in politics will be over.
There is the question of what will be the blowback from the eclipse of environmentalism as a significant political force. I fear the baby will get thrown out with the bath water. We need a new name for simply caring about and looking after the natural world in an intelligent way, as environmentalism or being green, are no longer viable labels, because they’re by now and will increasingly become, deeply tainted brands. I think there is a real danger that what positive aspects there are in both of them, will be pushed to the bottom of people’s priority stack in the second half of this double-dip recession, which I think we’re going to be in for the next three or even four years.
It’s a problem for another generation of people and I wish them luck with it. It would be a crying shame if my grandchildren never have the pleasure of a day’s fishing in an unpolluted mountain stream, for a brace of wild trout to take home and eat.
I’ll pass that baton on to my children and grandchildren. It’s their’s to fight for, or lose forever.
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