Yesterday’s meeting started me thinking about why, despite some NGO finding another potential climate related catastrophe almost every day, there is a feeling of frustration and a lack of progress. It looks to be the fault of the Green movement itself.
If we take a look at the history of the environmental movement, most if it sprang from the anti establishment movement of the early seventies, when people were fighting against corporate greed and government inaction. This was inexorably linked with left of centre politics, and into this rainbow coalition were drawn all of the other popular movements demanding an end to war, liberation for Palestine, legalisation of LSD and a whole variety of other causes. As a result, it is hard to get any rational discussion of environmental issues without running into some rather naive anti capitalist rhetoric, and this probabl;y goes some way to explaining the Green movements confrontational stance. In a nutshell, they are a bunch of old hippies, still fighting the battles of 1975 in 2009 because a) that is all they know how to do and b) there is a natural human instinct to try to preserve the status quo even if you started off fighting to overturn it.
If we look at the green leaders we see people such as Lord Jonathon Porrit and George Monbiot, sitting pontificating about how people should live their lives from a position of unimaginable privilege when viewed from most of the developing world. I have been in plenty of meetings with this strata of the green movement where people have had the arrogance to try to deny developing nations the very technology which would allow them to start improving standards of living. “We’d rather let them starve than risk using GMOs” seems to be the rather depressing view, which completely missed the point that while we in the west are rich enough to waffle on about downshifting, and slacking for the several billion other people living in grinding poverty would result in an early death.
Let’s face it, cycling to work or trading tomatoes for lettuces with your neighbour might make you feel better, but isn’t going to save the world, so what is?
Well it has to start with economic growth. Population will continue to rise anyway, and contrasting the living standards in London and Lagos illustrates why money is important. So demanding that x% of GDP be spent on mitigating climate changes isn’t really going to work because that money is being raised through green taxes which just takes more money out of the economy and leaves less of a margin to do good works with. But stimulating economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean pollution, as I mentioned yesterday the environment in the UK is actually getting cleaner and greener while at the same time we have got considerably richer.
It seems that the established Green movement knows only how to use the stick – taxes and scare stories – and not the carrot to change peoples behaviour. Nudge by Richard Thaler would be a good place to start looking for ideas. In addition this obsession with technology being bad is really holding back progress. technology isn’t all bad, as you’ll find out if you ever need to go into hospital.
The other thing that we can do to make a real difference is to encourage the development of, and if safe, the deployment of the whole range of new and emerging technologies that can address climate change. Should we be bothered that an entrepreneur or a company that comes up with a way to make a major difference to carbon dioxide emissions gets rich on the back of it? Of course not, we should applaud it and hope that it it will encourage others to try. There are a huge range of technologies, from nanotechnologies in thin film solar cells, through to engineering carbon capturing microbes using synthetic biology to solar shaded and geoengineering that we need to develop.
Groups such as Friends of the Earth and ETC have fought tooth and claw, and in the dirtiest possible way to encourage the wholesale rejection of technologies. It’s these old hippies with their 1975 mindsets that need to be rejected, not technology. Let’s forget the politics and see some action. If their approach is not appropriate for the 21st century then wither replace them or start a movement that is.