Grunion Moon (grunionmoon) wrote,
Grunion Moon
grunionmoon

Fear of environmentalism and the use of "shut up"


There has been a lot that I've been putting in the "what could I usefully write about this?" pile in the last few months. Which hasn't resulted in a lot of written evidence that I've been coping well. Inarticulacy doesn't help my morale. So, it's time to start typing in some of the backlog in, whether or not I can think of anything to usefully say about it. That's the plan...

(You'll note that my personal morale during any period must therefore substantially depend on whether I happen to be waking up hours-early and therefore have opportunity to write. Given that I'm very bad at self-steering on that - I go through periods of either sleeping late without deciding to or waking up very early without deciding to - without an alarm clock making any difference... well, that just adds another element to the pile of ways in which I tend to be ridiculously policy-incompatible. A tumbleweed in the winds, I am. Anyway.) (My inefficient writing-head is a time-hog. I need to have thought the subject over when I'm not writing... and then I need about an hour to noodle around and let the writing-direction jell... and I need to know that after that point I will have at least one to three hours afterward to keep at it. All without interruptions.) :oP

***

My friend Arbi at Open Diary has been doing exactly what she should have been doing, and therefore making me look bad. :o) Her researches and series of discussions of the topic of human-induced global warming have been magnificent.

A couple of tangent elements to her topic have pinged me. - Again, I haven't been sure how best to talk about 'em, so I'm just going to put what follows in rough, as scrapbook bits. You're on your own for proper narrative about it. Maybe that's best.

noko left a note on one of Arbi's recent entries observing that the global-warming question was, or it led to, an economic question and only began with the scientific-basis one. This is true enough; it's true of human-ecological/environmental questions in general. It's also true, as noko says, that much of the bias around the question is about that side of it or comes from that.

Arbi's rather elusive counterpart/opponent in her global-warming investigation in OD, TruNorth - who has since concluded that Arbi's take on the science comes from a left-wing orientation (to blend the ghost of economic ideology into the science questions in a confusing fashion - could the left-wing orientation of Arbi's analysis consist of not assuming that the theory of global-warming is a matter of left-wing orientation?) ... why do I construct sentences like this?

Anyway: TruNorth wrote a set of bullet points about environmentalists and supporters of anthropogenic climate change theory and mitigation. A quite interesting inclusion was this:
5. Two profound events triggered the split between those advocating a pragmatic or "liberal" approach to ecology and the new "zero tolerance" attitude of the extremists. The first event as previously mentioned was the widespread adoption of the environmental agenda by the mainstream of business and government. This left environmentalists with the choice of either being drawn into collaboration with their former "enemies" or of taking ever more extreme positions. Many environmentalists chose the latter route. They rejected the concept of "sustainable development' and took a strong anti-development stance.

Surprisingly enough the second event that caused the environmental movement to veer to the left was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Suddenly the international peace movement had a lot less to do. Pro-Soviet groups in the West were discredited and many of their members moved into the environmental movement bringing with them their eco-Marxism and pro-sandinista sentiments.

6. These factors have contributed to a new variant of the environmental movement that is so extreme that many people including myself believe that its agenda is a greater threat to the global environment than is posed by mainstream society. Some of the features of this eco-extremeism are;

- It is anti- human. The human species is characterized as a "cancer" on the face of the earth. The extremists perpetuate the belief tha all human activity is negative whereas the rest of nature is good. This aspect of environmental extremism lead to distain and disrespect for fellow human beings and a belief that it is "good" if a disease such as AIDS were to wipe out most of the population.

-It is anti- technology and anti_science. Eco-extremists dream of returning to some kind of technologically primitive society. My suggestion - why not emigrate to Afghanistan where you will find the primitive society of your dreams - and good luck with that!

-It is anti-organization. Environmental extremists in the mold of David Suzuki tend to expect the whole world to adopt anarchism as the model for individual behaviour. This is expressed in their dislike of of national governments, multinational corporations, and large institutions of all kinds. It would seem that this critique applies to all organizations except the environmental movement itself.

It is anti-trade. Eco extremists are opposed not only to free trade but to international trade in general. This is based on the belief that each bioregion should be self-suffient in all its material needs. Too cold to grow bananas....too bad. In its extreme version, bioregionalism is just another form ultra-nationionalism and gives rise to the same excesses of intolerance and xenophobia.

-it is anti-democratic. This is the most dangerous aspect of radical environmentalism. The very foundation of our society, liberal, representative democracy is rejected as being to "human-centered". In the name of "speaking for the trees an other species" we are faced with a movement that would usher in an era of eco-fascism. The planetary police would answer to no one but "Mother Earth" herself.

-it is basically anti-civilization. In its essence, eco extremism rejects virtually everything about modern life. No more cities, no more polyester suits, no more airplanes. It is a naive vision of a return to the Garden of Eden.
This - well. It's a nothing-but-suspicious, and beyond-suspicious, view of the people who take an interest in environmental/ecological questions and worries. (A view perhaps unrevised in a while. I mean, that reference to the diverted energies of the pro-sandinistas...) Arbi comments, "What I do read in TruNorth's entry is deep fear, fear of deterioration to our present way of life because of the influence of environmentalists."

It's a very, very broad brush, that centers not just on differing economic theories and their results but even more on the intent of those people. The only input it takes as reliable that's actually from those people is a collection of the most alarming-sounding snippet-moments of rhetoric that anyone can remember, which is taken as a peek behind the curtain about any and all of them. Emotionally it says, "You know who that guy is at the door who wants you to use energy-efficient appliances? ... It's Charles Manson."

I have seen a couple of things since that connect with this or that illustrate this.

The first is this post I found at a site called The End Of The American Dream:

Al Gore, Agenda 21 And Population Control
Here's the introduction:
Imagine going to sleep one night and waking up many years later in a totally different world. In this futuristic world, literally everything you do is tightly monitored and controlled by control freak bureaucrats in the name of "sustainable development" and with the goal of promoting "the green agenda". An international ruling body has centralized global control over all human activity. What you eat, what you drink, where you live, how warm or cold your home can be and how much fuel you can use is determined by them. Anyone that dissents or that tries to rebel against the system is sent off for "re-education". The human population is 90 percent lower than it is today in this futuristic society, and all remaining humans have been herded into tightly constricted cities which are run much like prisons. Does all of that sound good to you? Well, this is what Agenda 21 is all about.
There's a lot here. I find some of it peculiar in present description and some peculiar in future extrapolation. There's the obsession with them wanting to establish a world government that has centralized global control over all human activity and that will send all dissidents off to camps to be brainwashed. A lot of dedicated reading-in is needed in order to interpret the various sorts of priorities supported and worried about by environmentalists, and by Agenda 21 specifically, as clearly showing support for and efforts toward a monolithic totalitarian Communist world state. (Elsewhere I've seen a lot of stuff that reads the entire mitigating-global-warming priority-list as being - not a scam done by scientists who want more research-funding filthy lucre - but a set of lies by people who want to change and control the way we all live for its sake, just for the pure tingling socialist power of it.) In this view, it is impossible that the people who want environmental quality and ecological security could also want democracy, or that they might want to safeguard and preserve high levels of consumer happiness and broad options. Without the reader doing the right totalitarian reading-ins, it reads strangely. And - "all remaining humans have been herded into tightly constricted cities that are run much like prisons"? "Herded in." By who? Did we build an army of robots to herd us? We tend to hallucinate the nature of those we see as our enemies without checking much, but this is impressive.

If I were going to do - and periodically I have tried to do - the economic and political side of human-ecological questions, I'd go at it from the policy-theory-question side: I'd start with Herman Daly (Steady State Economics, then maybe For The Common Good or Beyond Growth), I'd bounce him off his arch-adversary Julian Simon (The Ultimate Resource), I'd review David Malin Roodman's The Natural Wealth of Nations... or maybe I'd just name-drop like I'm doing now and hope readers might scribble things down. This is not that - and this isn't even the Julian Simon ideological opposite of that. This assumes that all the questions have been answered, or that there are no questions, and that all the answers are apparent, and that the environmentalists are the danger and they need to shut up and go away.

***

By the way: I always admire (as I grind my teeth at) the irrational scare-word "agenda". It's perfection. There are a bunch of people who have a checklist, and they are checking things off on it one by one, and you are not in the room.

***

The special fear and paranoia about the population-growth/population-control question is its own subject. I've written before about the actual subject. The fear, though, is remarkable. I do not know if I understand part of it. Is there a shadow implication or dream, as perhaps in the paragraph I quoted above in the "all remaining humans", that those evil environmentalists would have accomplished that 90% reduction by exterminating the rest with machine guns? Or... well. The anti-population-control fervor and explanations I've seen do not seem limited to the don't-control-individuals'-childbearing-decisions thing - which aspect I do understand - and they do not seem limited to the question of the worries about high populations being misguided - which aspect I do understand. Many of the explanations, like certainly the ones to be found on that site, seem to contain a fear about the objective itself that is intrinsic and that they do not think they need to explain.

Is it a Julian-Simon-ish resolution of the value of human life - i.e., human life is good, therefore more people is good and fewer people is bad? If so, I would not call it a necessary resolution or consequence of human life being good... I'd care about the well-being and sphere of options of the people who are alive at any given time, and how safe they are and how safe that level is from trouble, and I like the idea of human beings living on and carrying our human wealth on for as long as possible into the future and doing so as well as possible. Of course, they are dismissing the risk of how Earth is run and the risk-questions about the size of the population and of society, dismissing that part of the equation... but the view seems more intrinsic than that. Should we consider it actually a tragedy that only almost seven billion people are alive now, for example, and not fourteen billion or twenty-one billion? Do we win in accordance with how many of us are here at any given time?

In any case it seems to bring an absolutely elemental level to the fear of environmentalists. Elementally: they're against us.

And they really, really want enviros to just go away.

Which is the other thing I wanted to show, that I have stared at and chafed at and wanted to write something about...

Start, I suppose, with this article, "The Myth Of 9 Billion." The gist is that the idea of "the demographic transition" - that was a final element that caused many people to put aside the very-controversial population-levels concern with relief at no longer being stuck with it - did not work automatically, and now it looks as if world populations will not be conveniently levelling off by themselves according to the plan after all. This is worth reading.

But, soon afterward, posted in the same journal, came this article in probable direct response: "More People, Please", by Charles Kenny.

Do read it; there are more angles in it than I will discuss, and I am not doing it justice by not going through all of them (though I do not think any of them should change my conclusions). But I was quite taken with this paragraph:
Yes, threats to global sustainability are clear and present dangers. But the 10,760-fold increase in aluminum production reported by environmentalist Clive Ponting, or the 380-fold increase in oil production, or even the 24-fold increase in global GDP over the course of the last century isn't driven by population growth. It is growing consumption per person that is the problem. And that, of course, is not the fault of Africans. The blame lies with wealthy countries that do nearly all of the consuming. The poorest 650 million people on the planet live on about 1 percent of the income of the richest 650 million. Each year, we add 1 percent or more to the incomes of those richest people - GDP per capita growth rates in wealthy countries are at least that high. And that 1 percent growth has the same impact on global consumption as would doubling the number of people living on the income of that bottom 650 million of the world's population. So, those people sitting in rich countries pontificating on unsustainable global populations might want to start off with the bit of that population they see in the mirror every morning.
Into the first short sentence of that paragraph, he folds his only reference to the entire body of potential counterargument to everything he has been saying. Doing so, he does not contradict it (immediately) - which would draw attention - he concedes it, easily; he might as well have said, "Sure." And then look what he does... Tell me if this is an accurate shorter rephrase of the rest of the paragraph: Disproportionate levels of inequality of consumption are where all the resources are going and where the resource scarcity problems are coming from, and the people who talk about population levels in connection with resource scarcity problems are among those consuming more resources, so they can just shut up about it.

Very nice, except that it leaves out some things:

Is inequality of wealth and resource consumption likely to disappear at any point in the future? There are likely to be rich areas and poor areas, and rich people and poor people, under most futures we can imagine. And in any of them some people and some areas would be consuming more resources than other people and areas. Could population ever be talked about?

But that's not even the problem.

Suppose that what I just said is not true, or regardless of whether it is true: Are resource problems, and implications of unequal consumption and resulting problems from that, likely to be unchanged by higher future population levels versus lower, or are they likely to be changed in some way, for example worsened or made riskier?

(You could break it down: What is the answer to this question given more versus fewer of the high-consumers? What is the answer given more vs. fewer of the poor low-consumers?) To play it out: Would the problems and resource prospects and outcomes be the same, or be different, between a high-population future and a lower-population future, given a low-inequality assumption? Would the problems and resource prospects and outcomes be the same, or be different, with different population levels, given a high-inequality assumption? (And subcategory: would the bad effects of the latter high inequality be the same or be more savage?)

What Kenney is nonexplicitly doing here is to refuse to compare - and to refuse the whole idea of comparing - between future worlds with different population levels, in connection with the prospects for resource problems and threats to global sustainability. (Which comparing is the entire crux, point, and nature of the subject and question about population! I said that it leaves out some things - I misspoke: it leaves out everything.)

What he is explicitly doing is saying "X applies to people concerned with this - the people concerned about 'how much' are being pigs - so they should shut up."

The latter often comes out more viscerally, and less cleverly, from other people on environmental or concern subjects. A recent showstopper that had me pacing was a comment thread under a news story about an oil pipeline that had broken and was leaking into a river. The comment thread got global, meta, tribal, and nearly theological immediately. On all sides, naturally, but the critics at least kept referring to the leak and to leak precautions and cleanup. There were a great many people who defended the oil company against any criticism for that leak or for anything else at all... and I believe the most frequent way in which this was done (among statements that oil is a natural substance, or typing in JOBS JOBS JOBS) was to say that, unless anyone criticizing the oil industry for that leak had stopped using oil or electricity completely and forever, including for the use of that computer, they were hypocrites and should not be listened to.

What Kenny does in that paragraph is only smoother than this.
So, those people sitting in rich countries pontificating on unsustainable global populations might want to start off with the bit of that population they see in the mirror every morning.
He wants people talking about population worries to shut up. To "leave people alone." I cannot tell if it is more that he wants them to shut up about something in which he is not interested and does not want to be interested - or if it's more that he feels a threat of some kind from them (given what he says elsewhere in the essay, a threat to some not-yet-existing people whose chances of existing soon they might reduce? a threat to a mandatory right to life extended to the nonspecific unconceived?). But they are supposed to go away. To knock it off. To just shut their pie holes.

Likewise... TruNorth's saying that Arbi shows a left-wing perspective is a shorthand for "shut up" (with possibly some "f--- you" coded in in perfectly clean fashion). Formula shorthands for "shut up" are useful - they win with those who agree with you and they muffle and cut off those who disagree with you. And they are used a lot, and quite effectively, when, in the writer's own mind, they are not differentiated from a mere statement of truth. (And we whom they are used on perhaps helpfully waste our time and energy on trying to figure out what "left-wing" actually ideationally means and how this impression can be refuted, when that sincere-assuming level is really beside the point. It's like ju-jitsu.)

Shut up. We don't want you. You're against us. You have a knife... Just go away!
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