Do you know that famous environmentalist who said:
‘Our Western industrialised civilisation has produced marvellous things, and it would be fantastic if we could carry on like this. Today’s low-earners can afford comforts that were, as recently as three generations ago, reserved for the very rich. Today’s checkout clerks and refuse collectors can afford holidays in Mallorca, tropical fruits, Argentinian beef with Australian Shiraz (or alternatively Chilean salmon with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc)…
I treasure these achievements dearly, which is why I only say this with the greatest reluctance: we cannot go on like this. We are destroying the planet. If we are to prevent catastrophic climate change, reductions in our living standards and personal liberties are inevitable. We have to impose restrictions, we have to enforce sacrifices – but we should never do this light-heartedly, and we should continue to look out for better ways of dealing with the problem. A necessary evil is still an evil.’
Any guesses? No? Of course not, because I made him up. While there is nothing illogical or inconsistent about this hypothetical view, you will have to look very long and hard to find someone who holds it, or something remotely similar. The environmental case for restrictions and restraint is never made with reluctance. It always comes wrapped up in a moralistic rant against lifestyle choices environmentalists disapprove of, so that most environmentalist arguments could be summarised as follows: catastrophic climate change forces us to do these things, but they are also the right thing to do, and we should do them anyway.
But don’t take it from me. Here’s what Naomi Klein, whose paranoid conspiracy theories made her a star among the anti-globalisation crowd, and who has now turned into a climate priestess, has to say on the issue:
‘Heartland’s Bast puts it even more bluntly: For the left, “Climate change is the perfect thing…. It’s the reason why we should do everything [the left] wanted to do anyway.” Here’s my inconvenient truth: they aren’t wrong. […] Chris Horner was right when he told his fellow Heartlanders that climate change isn’t “the issue.” In fact, it isn’t an issue at all. Climate change is a message, one that is telling us that many of our culture’s most cherished ideas are no longer viable. […] So when the Heartlanders react to evidence of human-induced climate change as if capitalism itself were coming under threat, it’s not because they are paranoid. It’s because they are paying attention. […] [C]limate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda.’
Klein also provides an ample description of her ‘progressive agenda’. To summarise it:
- ‘[P]lanning. Lots and lots of planning.’
- End trade. Not just international trade, but also trade between regions within a country: ‘In an economy organized to respect natural limits, the use of energy-intensive long-haul transport would need to be rationed - reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally or where local production is more carbon-intensive.’
- End economic growth. Start a programme of economic shrinkage: ‘[A]n ecological crisis that has its roots in the overconsumption of natural resources must be addressed […] by reducing the amount of material stuff we produce and consume. […] Growth would be reserved for parts of the world still pulling themselves out of poverty.’
- Within what remains of the economy, shrink the share of the private sector: ‘That means bringing back the idea of planning our economies based on collective priorities rather than corporate profitability[…] the role of the corporate sector, with its structural demand for increased sales and profits, would have to contract.’
- Stifle what remains of the private sector with taxes and regulation. To achieve this, centralise political power: ‘[H]eavily regulate and tax corporations […] And governments will have to coordinate their responses so that corporations will have nowhere to hide (this kind of robust international regulatory architecture is what Heartlanders mean when they warn that climate change will usher in a sinister “world government”).’
- If private companies try to find a way around this, nationalise them.
Needless to say, very little of this has anything to do with the climate. If that were really the issue, a single source-neutral carbon tax, the revenue ring-fenced to finance adaptation measures, would be more than enough. Klein’s text reminds me a bit of a book I read a while ago. It was about a group of ideologues using a strategy of fear and terror to impose far-reaching social changes on a population that would otherwise reject it. Oh wait, that was Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.