There are dangerously authoritarian tendencies in green politics

I am not going to criticise Greta Thurnberg but it would be wrong if the climate rebels of Extinction Rebellion and green political theorists were given a free ride because of our admiration for an undeniably impressive 16 year old.

As Extinction Rebellion was making its final preparations for its Easter campaign of civil disobedience, my brother Tom was selected as one of the Green candidates for the Euro elections that may not, but probably will, take place next month. He would make an excellent and hard-working MEP, and after waiting in Cornwall for years for the right wave to come along, a combination of indignation over climate change inaction and the Brexit debacle may now give him an opportunity to surf his way into power.

In the still improbable event that he is elected, I wish him well. As his political career takes off I will be content to be Piers to his Jeremy: an eccentric blogger brother of whom he is always slightly embarrassed.

But although Tom is a liberal and moderate Green candidate there are elements of Green ideology that are anything but. There is an element of illiberalism, fanaticism and authoritarianism that I, at least, find quite terrifying.

Some of them seem to have an instinct to ban views they don’t like. Tom’s fellow Green candidate, who was in fact elected at the last Euro elections, is Molly Scott-Cato. Last week she posted a tweet:

Spain banned Vox. Why don’t we do the same to Batten and Farage? This is what experience of fascism teaches you, just as Germany doesn’t allow referendums In UK, BBC repeats Farage’s incitement to political violence in hourly bulletins #ResistFascism

The Independent piece to which Scott-Cato’s tweet linked was about Vox, a Spanish anti-immigration party.

Spain’s electoral board has banned the party from participating in the only TV debate scheduled for the forthcoming election. We can learn from this in the UK. The usual response of the far right to criticism of their actions or policies is that to deny them a platform is to deny them free speech.

Spain, the article concluded, “had done the right thing by preventing a dangerous far right party from getting a seat at election debates. It’s time we followed their lead.”

It strongly implied that Vox had simply been banned for its right-wing policies, and explicitly argued that we should do the same to UKIP and the Brexit Party, because of Gerard Batten’s support for a candidate who made a ghastly joke about raping Jess Phillips, and because Nigel Farage had spoken of “putting the fear of God” into the mainstream parties.

In fact, as my well-informed brother pointed out, Spain had not actually “banned” Vox at all. It was simply that under the rules it was ineligible to participate in a TV election debate because it had not polled enough votes in the previous election.

In fairness to Ms Scott-Cato, she did eventually explain that despite the apparent meaning of her tweet and the unambiguous argument of the Independent article to which she linked with the hashtag #ResistFascism, she did not in fact mean that UKIP or the Brexit Party should be banned:

“… of course I’m not suggesting banning (should have removed sensationalist headline), but are you convinced that the arena for political debate – on media and elsewhere – is being safely held? I’m not. Threatening political violence is dangerous.”

All this could be written off as just a minor misunderstanding were it not for the fact that some Green theorists and some supporters of Extinction Rebellion seem to have a serious problem with democracy.

The vast majority of protestors who caused disruption in London in the days leading up to Easter were good-natured, non-violent and well-meaning.

One of their main spokesmen in recent days has been Rupert Read. A fluent and persuasive speaker, he has been a Green Party councillor, a Parliamentary candidate, and is one of the Party’s candidates for the East of England constituency in the Euro elections.

Like many of our current rulers he has a degree in PPE from Oxford University; and unlike most of them his was First Class. He now lectures on philosophy at the University of East Anglia, from where he has published lots of books and papers including ‘The New Wittgenstein, a collection of essays that he describes as “epoch-marking.Few of us are in any position to dispute this assessment.

Last August Dr Read announced, along with 56 other “campaigners and thinkers who are led by science,” that he would no longer debate with “those who deny the reality of human-triggered climate change.” The letter was signed by various scientists, academics, journalists, psychotherapists, Green Party activists and a campaigner against Satanic abuse.

One signatory of the letter, also a supporter of Extinction Rebellion, was an education lecturer from the “Centre for Climate Change Education” at Winchester University, Dr Simon Boxley. He is not a member of the Green Party; he is a green Marxist who describes himself as an eco-socialist. He is the author of Lenin’s lessons on schooling for the left in the UK (disappointingly, though predicatably, he reaches the conclusion that “Lenin’s educational offerings are thin”). He has also written an “Ecosocial manifesto” (jointly with Dave Spart Hill, another green Marxist Professor):

We locate the ideational spark of counterhegemonic praxis in opposition to the Radical Right in more or less intersticial resistance at a number of levels. Counter-hegemonic socialist egalitarian ideology in the educational arena operates, as in civil society more broadly, in an often fragmented way and via campaigning foci rather than around an agreed manifesto for Marxist or socialist or ecosocialist education.”

Quite so. I think he means “the students aren’t interested in the Marxism I teach them, but we may be able to get them campaigning if we call it green.”

Somewhat more accessibly Dr Boxley has set out his climate policies:

It is thus imperative to make the connection between opposition to “climate chaos” and neoliberal policies – indeed to the capitalist system itself – unfettered growth and an educational system which feeds, supports and reproduces both the production and consumption side of an unsustainable economic system.”

I have digressed a little. Back to Dr Read and Extinction Rebellion.

His view is that the threat of global warming is so great that “total civilisational transformation” is needed if we are to avoid the complete collapse of civilisation; indeed he thinks it likely that civilisation will in fact collapse, and points to countries such as Yemen and the Congo as examples of countries in which he says climate change has already contributed to its collapse. The same fate certainly awaits us, he says, unless drastic action is taken, and probably even if it is.

Read advises his followers to keep money under their mattresses in anticipation of a banking collapse, and to keep plenty of food stored away. His tone is relentlessly pessimistic.

Appearing on LBC last week he explained to Jacob Rees-Mogg that:

What we’re talking about here is a threat which is on a scale which it seems our democratic system is completely unable to rise to the challenge of and that’s why one of our demands is for citizens assemblies … what we’re saying is, it’s clear now … that we need drastic emissions reductions and we need them fast we calling for there to be citizens assemblies chosen from members of the public … which would decide how we make that fast transition to where we need to go.”

It is a variation on a familiar theme for Dr Read. Speaking at Cambridge University last year, for example, he explained his support for the then largely unknown Extinction Rebellion:

We should rebel: … Look this is an emergency, it is incredibly urgent. It is going to determine our futures. The governments have completely failed us. We should not any longer accept their authority. … I think they’re exactly right.”

We are heading for utter catastrophe, is the message, and to avoid that fate almost anything is acceptable, including, explicitly, “rebellion.” Taken literally he appears to mean that in the pursuit of a climate policy of which he approves we should no longer obey the law, and that we should regard democratically elected governments as illegitimate.

Extinction Rebellion’s website has a similar message:

“… we are calling for a full-scale Rebellion to demand decisive action from governments on climate change and ecological collapse.

Join us as we engage in acts of non-violent civil disobedience against governments in capital cities around the world. This is not a one-off march – we will keep going for as long as we have to, shutting down cities day after day until our demands are met.”

If they mean what they say, and Dr Read appears very earnest, the group intends not just to try to persuade but if necessary to coerce elected governments to adopt its policies. Whether or not it is admirable, “shutting down our cities day after day until our demands are met” is certainly not democratic.

Dr Read, fluent though he is, is rather vague about what exactly should be done about these failed democratic institutions. The only concrete suggestion is the rather bathetic demand for “Citizens Assemblies,” in which “representative” members of the public are selected, are asked to listen to evidence on various issues, and then make recommendations to government.

There may well be something to be said for such assemblies, although for Dr Read their purpose appears to be to recommend not whether but how to make the revolutionary changes that he believes to be essential. A few Citizens Assemblies informing public debate on climate change are hardly a replacement for the “failed” Parliamentary democracy for which Dr Read appears to have such contempt.

What, then, does Dr Read propose should be done if, as seems likely, our democratic institutions do not concede all the demands of the Green Party and Extinction Rebellion?

If, as he says, “our democratic system is unable to rise to the challenge,” and if, as he says, our very existence is threatened, does it follow that we should use non-democratic means?

He thinks that it does, but the crucial question, is what non-democratic means? I’m not sure that we have a clear answer. Read supports “non-violent direct action.” But what if closing down London for a few days doesn’t work? Doesn’t saving civilisation, or even life itself, mean that far more extreme tactics are justified? Are the ends not so important that almost any means are justified? It is a seductive argument but it can take us to some very dark places.

Green politics and philosophy have long contained a streak of authoritarianism. One of the environmentalist theorists greatly admired by Read, William Ophuls, questioned, like Read, whether our existing democratic institutions were equal to the challenge of environmental degradation (although more, as was customary in the late twentieth century, in the context of over-population than climate change). He concluded that they were not:

Liberal democracy as we know it … is doomed by ecological scarcity; we need a completely new political philosophy and set of political institutions. Moreover, it appears that the basic principles of modern industrial civilization are also incompatible with ecological scarcity and that the whole ideology of modernity growing out of the Enlightenment, especially such central tenets as individualism, may no longer be viable.” “… if under conditions of ecological scarcity, individuals rationally pursue their material self-interest unrestrained by a common authority that upholds the common interest, the eventual result is bound to be common environmental ruin. In that case, we must have political institutions that preserve the ecological common good from destruction by unrestrained human acts. The problem that the environmental crisis forces us to confront is, in fact, at the core of political philosophy: how to protect or advance the interests of the collectivity when the individuals who make it up (or enough of them to create a problem) behave (or are impelled to behave) in a selfish, greedy, and quarrelsome fashion. The only solution is a sufficient measure of coercion.”Liberal democracy as we know it — that is, our theory or “paradigm” of politics is doomed by ecological scarcity; we need a completely new political philosophy and set of political institutions. Moreover, it appears that the basic principles of modern industrial civilization are also incompatible with ecological scarcity and that the whole ideology of modernity growing out of the Enlightenment, especially such central tenets as individualism, may no longer be viable.”1

The distinguished economist Robert Heilbroner looked into the future in 1974 and saw looming environmental problems which could not be managed by democratic means:

“… candor compels me to suggest that the passage through the gantlet [sic] ahead may be possible only under governments capable of rallying obedience far more effectively than would be possible in a democratic setting. If the issue for mankind is survival, such governments be unavoidable, even necessary.”

The philosopher and economist Garret Hardin coined the phrase “tragedy of the commons” to explain why a strong central authority was necessary to prevent a growing population consuming all natural resources. What Hardin called the freedom to breed,” for example, was “intolerable” and was bound, in his view, to lead to tragedy. In his 1974 essay The ethics of the lifeboat: the case against helping the poor Harbin argued a neo-Malthusian case for rich countries to adopt “highly restrictive” immigration policies:

Unrestricted immigration … moves people to the food, thus speeding up the destruction of the environment of the rich countries. We can easily understand why poor people should want to make this latter transfer, but why should rich hosts encourage it?”

Instead, Hardin said, rich countries should keep out immigrants, adopting the “ethics of the lifeboat.” The poor huddled masses should be allowed to drown so that the rich might survive in their lifeboats.

The “lifeboat” metaphor is also one that has appealed to Dr Read. He too has spoken of the need for “lifeboats” to save civilisation and has warned of the dangers of too much immigration. Thus in his speech in Cambridge in 2018:

We should be willing to take some climate refugees, potentially in this country it seems to me, after all we’re the cause of a lot of the trouble, we had the industrial revolution first but we literally don’t have the capacity to take very many if it starts to get to the point I’m afraid it is likely likely to get to. … There ought to be lifeboats, it is better for some civilisation to survive than for no civilisation to survive, but what you need to do … is to try to ensure that that any way you go about creating such lifeboats is not so repellent and aggressive and immoral as to be kind of self-undermining that it would be better it hadn’t happened at all.”

Hardin’s and Read’s lifeboat arguments have a great deal in common, although Read doesn’t want his lifeboats to be created in a “repellent and aggressive” way, which will no doubt be a comfort to those, less civilised than Dr Read, left in the water.

To those thinking of giving their support to the Greens or of joining Extinction Rebellion, the time has come to subject their policies to the sort of scrutiny that other political parties expect as a matter of course. An economic policy designed to reduce greenhouse emissions above all other priorities – the “total civilisational transformation” that Dr Read advocates – will not just stop yummy-mummies and daddies driving to school in their SUVs and restricting them to one skiing holiday a year. It will hit the poor hardest, while the very rich will simply leave the country. It is virtually certain to lead to lost jobs, lost tax revenue, a depleted health service and welfare state, increased poverty, increased crime and huge social unrest: in short an economic and political crisis. If any government pursues such policies, those will be consequences that will ensure it loses popular support very quickly. People do not vote for poverty, mass unemployment and economic ruination. It is for that very reason that Green theorists like Ophuls and Heilbroner recognised that revolutionary ecological policies will need to be imposed by (as Heilbroner put it) “governments capable of rallying obedience far more effectively than would be possible in a democratic setting.”

We have plenty of examples from history where undemocratic governments have tried to “rally obedience” in pursuit of a promised land. What often happens is that they are able to rally obedience for a time, but the promised land never materialises. Many eggs are broken but somehow nobody ever makes the omelette.

Of course not all Green politicians or Extinction Rebellion supporters are dangerous extremists. For every eco-leninist Simon Boxley dreaming of an ideational spark of counterhegemonic praxis, there are no doubt hundreds who are thoughtful and moderate, and entirely committed to democracy. But anyone who treasures freedom and liberal democracy ought to be very wary indeed of lending their support to those who speak – quite openly – of no longer accepting the authority of elected governments. We will not save the planet by imposing fanatical solutions by undemocratic methods.

1Ecology and the politics of scarcity revisited: the unravelling of the American Dream William Ophuls & A Stephen Boyan (1992)

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

24 thoughts on “There are dangerously authoritarian tendencies in green politics”

  1. Oh dear, I’ve just posted my vote for 2 Green councillors. In placing my X I was faced with the limited choice of 2 independents, 2 Tories, 2 Labour and the Greens.
    In my experience independent candidates have such extreme views that they can’t be housed within our current party allegiances, including the new ones. These are of that ilk.
    The Labour Party seems to have a problem of identification. Who the hell are they these days?
    I was visited by one of the Tory candidates who discussed Brexit with me, especially as regards the Lisbon Treaty. I argued, but Lisbon isn’t bedtime reading here, so I did a fact check after he had left. Everything (EVERYTHING) he stated as fact was either a lie or misinformation. I also have a pretty hopeless Tory MP.
    So, despite being of a LibDem persuasion (no candidates here) I examined the Greens. In a national forest there are many issues of interest to them so….
    I can understand your hesitation but they are a small force in UK politics, polling well below UKIP and the LibDems. Caroline Lucas is a genuinely good and capable MP.
    What I find interesting in any debate of green policies is the failure of their detractors to examine or discuss the science.
    We must remember that human influenced climate change is supported by the vast majority of climate scientists. And there can be no doubt that we are polluting the planet in so many ways and reducing biodiversity in many formerly thriving habitats. There is an urgency about this.
    Surely this should be of intetest to all politicians. The politics of Trump and the stupidity of Lawson makes me feel this will end up another shouting match where nobody listens. A bit like Brexit.

    1. @Mark Parry

      “What I find interesting in any debate of green policies is the failure of their detractors to examine or discuss the science.”

      Green politicians idea of “science” doesn’t involve using experiments to test scientific hypotheses. It involves conducting opinion polls amongst a small section of the population defined by employment in one particular branch of science, about political value judgments as to what policy would be best.

      Over the last few thousand years, the average world weather has been like now, warmer than now, and colder than now. None of the greenies I ask seem to be able to answer my question, as to what the best weather pattern is, at which mankind ought to strive artifically to stabilise the future weather, preventing a continuation of the observed natural fluctuations.

      1. Regarding science – it may be worth considering reading and review “Meat the Truth” which examines how our animal eating ways are the number one cause of Global Warming for all of you who are unsure about whether the weather is changing – I invite you to Australia – Rutherglen or travel highway one – and you will see a real absence of any wildlife and a parched world. For those of you who are curious about the effects on your personal person from eating Animal-based foods including fish you may review the Science that Dr Fuhrman utilizes in his nutrition recommendations which links the percentage of Animal-based foods you consume which is directly linked to the level of Insulin-like Growth Factor one (IGF-1) in your body. Also, the level of IGF-1 in your body is directly related to cancer incidence – where a higher your level of IGF-1 is directly linked to a higher level of cancer occurrence. Cancer rates are now heading from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2 – and in my opinion, it is a condition very well worth avoiding.

        1. If you are having problems with parched areas apparently the latest ecological theories involve introducing cattle to re-fertilise the soil, re-establish vegetation, and improve the micro climate.

          Talking of vegetation, does Dr Fuhrman explain where cancer-free cavemen bought their vegan supplements?

          Or did their bread come pre-packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and all the other things green, low mileage, “unadulterated” local veggie produce lacks?!If you are having problems with parched areas apparently the latest ecological theories involve introducing cattle to re-fertilise the soil, re-establish vegetation, and improve the micro climate.

          Talking of vegetation, does Dr Fuhrman explain where cancer-free cavemen bought their vegan supplements?

          Or did their bread come pre-packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and all the other things green, low mileage, “unadulterated” local veggie produce lacks?!

      2. While the greens and natural climate change deniers can’t tell us what the best temperature for the planet is, there IS a scientific consensus about it.

        There are several periods in mankind’s history that are termed “Climate Optimums” by the experts.

        Intriguingly they are all periods when the climate was warmer than now.

        By several degrees.

        In fact, temperatures remarkably similar to the CO2 model produced figures the solar driven climate model sceptics threaten us with!

  2. A superb and enlightening summary which should be read by any intending protestor, and those affected by Extinction Rebellion

    1. Dear David – I find your comment incomprehensible as when the reference to Science is made – to me it appears that by the mention of Science a considered level of proof has been achieved in the field in question. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. As what represents acceptable Science varies substantially. You only need look at the massive fights at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which commonly include what is the correct Science backing a trade embargo. Having completed a Masters of Law mini-thesis on the trade wars at the WTO and the vastly different results of Scientific Analysis result from various normative interpretations of Scientific Research.

  3. Molly is a Friend of mine and not an opposer of democracy in any way – she is also well aware of Popper’s paradox of tolerance, to which I believe she may have referred.
    If we tolerate everything including those who would use society’s tolerance to eradicate any such freedoms – we all lose. Fascism being the moot case in point.
    The habit of crying about free speech when preying on fears, in order to develop intolerant policies, is the classic fascist trick.
    Greens – studying the science of climate catastrophe which has been consistently cross checked and is only disputed by a small cadre of flat earth types, still citing Carbon dependent amoral corporations’ fake news – are frustrated that, for an example of how our “unbiased institutions” behave, Farage and Hannan are the only MEPs ever to be/have been on BBC question time –
    seriously – no others, none who are pro-EU have EVER been on… Farage and Hannan, 40 times.
    The democracy of this country is failing us – and the only way to prevent the world from collapse involves some new worldwide government agreement to restrict the freedom to pollute – and that is (at least appears) impossible to imagine, yet alone construct.

    So yes – Greens can appear intolerant at times…
    being aware of how the planet’s mammalian population are quietly being led into the death camp, to which democratic capitalism has defaulted, can do that to you…

    1. Brilliant satire, Patrick.

      And, yes, Greens and other “liberals” and “progressives” need to re-read what Popper actually said about “tolerance” and “Fascists” (who are themselves, by definition, on the illiberal, intolerant, corporate – which of course doesn’t apply just to business corporations, but to worker, academic, and political ones – left and at the opposite end of the scale to the libertarian – once known as liberal until the left hijacked and reversed it’s meaning – right).

    2. Firstly lets deal with your comment…”is only disputed by a small cadre of flat earth types”. What utter nonsense and just highlights that the eco-loons with their 6th form politics are gaining support for their message from presumably intelligent people.

      Lets be clear, this tub thumping and doom laden message from the loons is based on computer modelling of the climate, but the problem is of course our climate is quite chaotic and therefore extremely difficult to model. Throw in some Albedo effects, Milankovic cycles and many more atmospheric phenomenon then its no more than a lottery. In fact studies have shown that if you put in actual measured data in to some of these models being used they throw out ridiculous results.

      Where there is big money involved i.e. world governments throwing around billions of dollars each year to universities, NGO’s and other research organisations to research AGW, do you think there are going to play it down ? Of course not as they need to keep their noses in the trough.

      There are thousands of scientists who don’t buy into AGW, but to publically say so will result in removal from their position – yes its been happing for a decade now. Why? because their university will not be blessed with pots of gold to fund new science faculties and professorships.

      The ‘green blob’ as its known is fascist to the core, even to the point of trying to shut down independent scientific peer review and publications who challenge their beliefs. Even the BBC has said that it will not allow contradiction of the climate change meme and therefore nobody is ever interview or allowed to put forward empirical evidence that disputes the blob’s climate models.

      Just do a bit of research type in ‘Climategate’ into Google or just watch videos such as this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJwayalLpYY

  4. “… calling for there to be citizens assemblies chosen from members of the public…”

    Surely Parliament is already an ‘assembly of citizens’ chosen from – and, more importantly, by – members of the public.

  5. Thank you, Matthew, for your kind words about my candidacy. But I would like to pick up on some of the other points made in your post, which I think give a very misleading impression of the Green movement.

    I wasn’t at the Extinction Rebellion events in London, but know many people who were and have great admiration for what they have achieved, which is to put the climate at the centre of the national conversation – not just as some vague and distant threat but as an immediate emergency that is already causing terrible damage to lives and livelihoods, and threatens very much worse.

    I think what is boils down to is whether we tell the truth about climate change and the consequences for human societies if we do not stop burning fossil fuels, very quickly.

    What should people should do if they believe that a very great evil is being brought about by people, corporations or state actors that enjoy the backing of the legal system? Is it ever morally justified to break the law to resist such an evil? I think it is, and that there are many historical examples to illustrate this.

    I think it was right, for instance – and exceptionally brave – for Quakers and others who saw the anti-Jewish laws enacted by the Nazis as just such an evil to deliberately break these laws. Also for prisoners in the Soviet Gulag to strike against their (legally sanctioned) oppressors. As one of them later wrote: “All the 1956 reforms and the shutting down of the camps were caused by those rebellions! It was no longer possible to keep this army of people in obedience. When the camps rebelled, coal-mining output dropped, timber-cutting also. Nobody was at work. Gold and uranium — no one was working. Something had to be done. Nikita Khrushchev released us. What else could he do? We managed to make them release us.”

    It might be objected that these were protests against totalitarian regimes, but there are many examples of justified non-violent direct action taking place in democracies too. It was absolutely right for people who saw slavery as an intolerable evil to (illegally) assist escaped slaves via the “Underground Railroad” that operated in the American South, risking prosecution and imprisonment to do so. Civil rights protesters in the Deep South were right to engage in the schools strikes and sit-ins in the early 1960s that led to hundreds of them being arrested and gaoled.

    I think the Suffragettes were completely justified in peacefully breaking the law in their campaign to achieve voting rights for women – though I also think it was also a bad mistake for them to resort to arson, which lost them a great deal of public sympathy and set back their campaign.

    It’s worth noting in that respect that Extinction Rebellion (and Rupert Read) strongly insist on non-violent protest. I see this as wise not just on obvious moral grounds, but also pragmatically. The few isolated examples of “eco-terrorism” that there have been – notably Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber – have done nothing to further the cause of environmentalism. I can see nothing in Rupert Read’s writings that suggests he offers any justification for such violence, either now or (as your post seems to suggest) at some unspecified time in the future.

    On the question of whether the Green movement has an authoritarian streak: it’s a very broad movement and any authoritarian strand within it is, as far as I can see, so small as to be insignificant. Molly quickly clarified her hastily worded tweet asking whether we should “ban” parties on the far right – it was the massive media exposure given to such parties that she was questioning, and I agree with her on this.

    The thinkers whose work you hold up as examples of Green authoritarianism are not, I think, widely known or read in the Green movement. I had never heard of Simon Boxley, and from the quotes from his writing that you give it seems highly unlikely that his brand of “eco-leninism” is ever likely to make much impact beyond the obscurer corners of academia. Nor was I aware of Garret Hardin (not “Harbin”), but I do know that he didn’t invent the idea of the “tragedy of the commons” – a phrase coined in in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd. Hardin’s apparent association with white nationalism would make him an unlikely hero for any Greens that I know of.

    Much more influential in the Green movement in the context of the tragedy of the commons is the economist Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded a posthumous Nobel prize for her research into how scarce natural resources can be successfully managed by local communities without heavy-handed intervention by the state. Her work is the opposite of authoritarian, I think.

    Ophuls and Heilbroner are more substantial figures and do raise some interesting points about the impossibility of addressing the climate crisis by reliance on the “free market”. Markets are in any case never really “free” – they are always regulated by rules of some sort that rely ultimately on coercion by the state. The rules of the prevailing “free market” system already place quite a few restrictions on the rights of corporations to do as they please and to dispose of their profits as they will, but they fail to take account of the gravest harm that corporations are currently doing, which is to our climate system.

    If – as I believe – these rules need to be changed to address this harm (for instance by placing much higher taxes on carbon and a complete ban on exploration and drilling for new sources of gas and oil) then such rules will indeed, like all laws, need to be backed up by state coercion if they are to mean anything. But this is hardly “authoritarianism” – it is simply common-sense self-preservation. Greens certainly wish for policymakers to take much more account of what scientists are telling us about the consequences of continued burning of fossil fuels, but I know of no Greens – and certainly none in the Green Party – who wish for us to be ruled by an unaccountable and unelected technocracy.

    It’s not that we need some Green Generalissimo to take charge, but we do need leaders who are brave enough to tell the truth about the scale of the emergency and of the action needed to address it. Such action will certainly cause disruption to business as usual, but so did the action taken to address the Nazi threat in the last century, and I see the current situation as every bit as serious.

    The point you make about people not voting “for poverty, mass unemployment and economic ruination” is an important one. Of course people don’t vote for these things, but at present they are voting (unfortunately) for parties whose failure to seriously address the climate emergency will bring about the absolute and irreversible ruination of the climate system and the global economy that depends on it, and the destruction of countless lives along with it.

    This is the central point that Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have set out to make, and I applaud them for the imagination and determination with which they have made it.

    1. I’d just pick you up on your comments about breaking the law and citing anti slavery activists and the suffragettes as examples of people justifiably breaking the law in democratic states. Of course neither of the regimes in question were democracies in any meaningful sense given that neither black people nor women had the vote at the material time. Hence these examples don’t really support your point.

      The classic liberal argument is that where there is a liberal democratic system (one adult one vote, regular free elections, liberty of speech and association etc etc) all change should be sought by legal means as everyone has access to the legal political process. However, a moment’s thought shows most people would not agree with that with certain situations. Say, for example, if Hitler had held a free referendum regarding the extermination of the Jews and got a 51% vote in favour. Would it have been illegitimate for the opponents of this policy to do everything in their power to oppose it, despite their actions being against the freely expressed will of the majority of the people?

      Of course not. There are indeed some things that trump “democracy”. The difficulty is identifying them. I can’t see that it is prima facie wrong, however, to say that preventing destruction of the planet justifies by anti democratic acts.

    2. I take it Tom Scott is campaigning for much more nuclear power, especially as generation 3 plants have a perfect safety record and generation 4 should be fail-safe?

      Or is the “immediate emergency” of a potential Global Warming Catastrophe actually less of a threat than a tiny potential risk of a much less dangerous than Chernobyl incident?!

      I wonder if he also supports protesters who try to help unborn children escape dismemberment without anaesthetic or analgesic?

      And would he support them breaking laws, including with violence, to secure not just liberty, but to save life?

      Or does he, like many “progressives”, consider them, as “Democrats” of old, not really fully people like us (while often refusing to condone the killing of animals, or even the eating of non human eggs)?!

      As for the “Suffragettes were completely justified in peacefully breaking the law in their campaign to achieve voting rights for women – though I also think it was also a bad mistake for them to resort to arson…”.

      Hardly peaceful then!

      In fact what was believed to have been one of their arson attacks killed several people, their bomb and arson attacks badly injured several rail and postal workers, they invented the letter bomb, and the bomb attack on the “unoccupied” prime ministers home actually involved two bombs, the second timed to go off after (but fortunately disarmed by) the first, when not only the builders working on it, but the police, press, etc, would likely have been present.

      The SuffragETTES were the “progressive” wing of the SuffragIST movement, who WERE just about to achieve their aims peacefully when the extremist Suffragettes ruined things for them!

      That’s what happens when you have an “I want it NOW and I don’t care how” approach.

      The Suffragettes no doubt started off with legal “disruption”, then illegal but “peaceful” disruption….

      So how long before we see the Extinction Rebellettes?

      After all, if they are trying to save us from such a big emergency, and it’s so immediate, surely anything and everything is excusable?

      Though didn’t the leaders of the Suffragettes also distance themselves from the violence?!

  6. @Tom Scott

    “What should people […] do if they believe that a very great evil is being brought about by people, corporations or state actors that enjoy the backing of the legal system?”

    They should tell people about their fears, naturally. It worked for the Brexiteers, up to the point. It may yet work a treat for them.

    As you said, “what is boils down to is whether we tell the truth about climate change and the consequences for human societies if we do not stop burning fossil fuels, very quickly.” Stopping the traffic in Oxford Circus doesn’t convince me that you are telling the truth. Evidence and argument might. Try that instead.

    1. Indeed.

      In fact clogging up traffic, whether for a few days in Oxford Street, or city centres across the country on the last Friday of every month with a mass cycle protest, only convinces me that they don’t actually care about pollution or the environment, never mind CO2, people, or the planet!

  7. Broadly speaking, the richer the society, and the richer the individual people within that society, the more destructive and essentially “parasitic” is their impact on our common ecological inheritance. Hence green politics cannot even condone the accumulation of individual material wealth, let alone hold it up as a model for everyone to emulate. Environmentalism is therefore fundamentally opposed to the type of capitalist democracy hyped by the United States and its poodles (e.g. Britain) as the crowning achievement of the human race.

  8. This piece takes some very bizarre positions, particularly around the use of non-violent civil disobedience as a way of creating political change. By using non-violent civil disobedience, the Extinction Rebellion protesters are drawing on the same tradition as Gandhi and the US civil rights movements. To claim Extinction Rebellion are authoritarian and dangerous is to ignore these precedents.

  9. “I am not going to criticise Greta Thurnberg but it would be wrong if the climate rebels of Extinction Rebellion and green political theorists were given a free ride because of our admiration for an undeniably impressive 16 year old.”

    Lets cut the modern day Nongqawuse a little slack….

    “He thinks that it does, but the crucial question, is what non-democratic means? I’m not sure that we have a clear answer. Read supports “non-violent direct action.” But what if closing down London for a few days doesn’t work? Doesn’t saving civilisation, or even life itself, mean that far more extreme tactics are justified? Are the ends not so important that almost any means are justified? It is a seductive argument but it can take us to some very dark places.”

    That progression is well understood and documented.

    http://fathalimoghaddam.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/1256627851.pdf

    “Last August Dr Read announced, along with 56 other “campaigners and thinkers who are led by science,” that he would no longer debate with “those who deny the reality of human-triggered climate change.” The letter was signed by various scientists, academics, journalists, psychotherapists, Green Party activists and a campaigner against Satanic abuse.”

    Well they are a bit like Ben Goldacre who hasn’t posted a climate change article to “Bad Science” since the CRU e-mail leak and vows that “he would rather slam his cock in the door” than debate with “deniers”. He knows perfectly well that if he opens his trap he’s going to be asked why he doesn’t criticise the same poor practice that event revealed in Climate Science that he’s happy to berate in Pharma companies. It isn’t just that the science isn’t that settled, the whole policy response and cost/benefit analysis are still wide open. Nicholas Stern’s inability to conduct a valid Net Present Value analysis notwithstanding.

  10. “a candidate who made a ghastly joke about raping Jess Phillips”

    Oh dear!

    He made a ghastly joke very specifically about *NOT* raping her!

    And then in response to the hysterical ovary action of the sistas to him saying he *WOULDN’T* rape her he made another ghastly joke about how, if they insisted, he’d consider reconsidering.

    Although he doubted there was enough beer in the world for him to do so.

    Surely there are laws against such things?

    Making false accusations I mean!

    Although they seem to be so little enforced the sistas clearly aren’t worried about them.

  11. Given how impressive Greta Thunberg is, acknowledged Aspergers and mental health issues notwithstanding, isn’t it time, rather than banning under 18s from buying booze, fags, and top shelf mags, our politicians recognised the wisdom of 16 and 17 year olds, and not only gave them the vote, but put them in charge of buying not only household cutlery, but all sharp and pointy objects for the home?

    Oh, and fireworks and firearms.

    And restrict learner driver supervision to them.

    Oh, oh, and drop the school leaving age to 15 and scrap university places for the young.

    Clearly kids today know everything they need to know by the time they are 16, and rather than wasting universities on them they should be used to (re?)educate the old!

  12. Indeed.

    In fact clogging up traffic, whether for a few days in Oxford Street, or city centres across the country on the last Friday of every month with a mass cycle protest, only convinces me that they don’t actually care about pollution or the environment, never mind CO2, people, or the planet!

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