A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Why 'Green Bunnies' will always be 'Unhappy Bunnies' (or the rage of impotence).....

I'm so glad I am not an ecofundamentalist. To be a 'Green Bunny' is to doom oneself to perpetual unhappiness, frustration, and anger with your fellow human beings and the state of the world. The reason is simple. Ecofundamentalism is utopian (and remember "utopia" means "nowhere"). People will just not do what you demand. You are never going to achieve even a smidgen of your desires, and whatever you do manage to squeeze from a reluctant and unconvinced populace, you will always, like Oliver Twist, be left wanting more.

'Global warming' is the classic instance. Forget the science. The real drive for 'global warming' has always been a neo-puritan agenda to limit growth, to make small beautiful, to reduce population to some nebulous optimum, to rein in the 'Great Satan' (America), to crush the car and aeroplanes, to curb capitalism and globalisation, to continue to laud it over the developing world, especially those rampant Asian dragons, and to return us all to a 'Golden Organic Age' that never was. So powerful is 'global warming' as a legitimising 'science' for this deeply emotional agenda that there is no way the 'Green Bunnies' can drop it, whatever the scientific, economic, and political realities. The burrow would collapse. I actually feel sorry for them.

For reality will always bring a cold chill to the burrow. As Mr. Blair reminded us only a couple of weeks ago, no country can afford to abandon growth, and debating globalisation in the face of Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, South Africa - you name them - is like arguing whether summer comes before autumn. Indeed, rising CO2 levels are little more than a proxy measure of much-needed growth.

The truth is that the 'Green Bunny' agenda is just not going to happen, whatever the column inches of angst and anger in The Guardian, The Independent, and on Channel 4 (watch out for the new digital spin-off channel, More4, which launches this Monday, the 10th). There will be no limits to growth. Humans will continue to outpace limitations through constant adaptation and technological wizardry. Population will continue to rise naturally to around 8.9 billion, before the curve flattens through normal economic processes, through increasing wealth, and, hopefully, through the empowerment of women. Overall, life expectancy will continue to rise, despite the inevitable setbacks of AIDS and other viruses.

We will also, of course, continue to be afflicted by an ever-unstable earth, with earthquake, fire and flood, although the evidence clearly indicates that the more wealthy the country, the less damage these inflict. But stuff happens; that's life on a restless planet. And, there may indeed be that ultimate supervolcano or asteroid about which we can do absolutely nothing but pour out the single malt.

The 'Green Bunnies' are silflaying in the wind, and their increasingly shrill squeaks will follow, one by one, a pattern outlined in a brilliant article in The Economist way back in 1997 (I précis):

In Phase 1, some obscure scientists discover what they think is a potential threat to the Earth. In Phase 2, left-wing journalists oversimplify and grossly exaggerate the threat. The scientists become minor celebrities (The Big Brother Lab?). In Phase 3, the 'Green Bunnies' seize their opportunity, and they deliberately aim to polarise the issue - in the words of the original article: "Either you agree that the world is about to come to an end and are fired by righteous indignation, or you are a paid lackey of big business." In Phase 4, the bureaucrats emerge out of their cocoons, with international conferences mooted, thus keeping public officials well plied with club-class tickets and treats abroad. This inevitably diverts the argument to regulation, and totemic targets are set - and then ignored. In Phase 5, it is time to pick on a scapegoat. This is usually America, or 'big business'. Phase 6 sees the entrance of the sceptics who declare that the scare is grossly exaggerated. Again, in the words of The Economist article: "This drives greens into paroxysms of pious rage. 'How dare you give space to fringe views?' cry these once-fringe people to newspaper editors." Phase 7 witnesses the politicians and bureaucrats, and even some of the scientists who first proposed the scare, waivering, and trying to re-emphasise the scientific and political complexities. Meanwhile, the journalists start to get bored with the topic. Phase 8 becomes the quiet climb-down, while the issue slowly dies away from the headlines, to be replaced, of course, by a totally new scare. "And so", as Samuel Pepys might have said, "Back to Phase 1"...

In the long run, to be a 'Green Bunny' is going to make you a very 'Unhappy Bunny' indeed. Rupert Bear's 'Nutwood' is but a childhood Utopia; 'Virtualia', by contrast, is a future we cannot even yet conceive.

And 'Green Bunny' anger (not to mention More4) is but the rage of impotence.

[For an excellent reader on Utopias see: The Faber Book of Utopias, ed. John Carey, Faber & Faber, 1999 (2000).]

Philip, academically intrigued by Utopian 'Golden Ages'. They always end in tears before bedtime. Sunday lunch, on the other hand...

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

WWW EnviroSpin Watch

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?