I have been attending an Academic Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece – I know, I know, it’s dirty, nasty work but some body has to do it – anyway, the conference was on political theatre and one of the sessions was on theatre and climate change. Now, I have to own up here to being not entirely convinced by the Green rhetoric around climate change and when the speaker at this conference started with the normal apocalyptic assertions about the catastrophic future facing our planet and the coming extinction of the human race, I frankly stopped listening. Here’s why:
Over millennia climate change on earth is normal and inevitable. So the question here is not about climate change it is about ‘man made climate change’. This is important because we are morally and technologically responsible for one and not for the other.
Thus the very basic questions around climate change that have to be answered include:
- Is climate change happening?
- If it is, is it natural or man made?
- Will the effects of climate change man made or natural be good or bad for humanity?
- If bad is there anything we can do to stop or reverse climate change?
- If climate change is man made and can be stopped or reversed, how do we do that?
- If it is ‘too late’, and the negative effects of man made climate change are inevitable, how should humanity respond to it?
These seem like fairly pragmatic not to say scientific questions but the Green rhetoric around climate change has a dimension of ‘moral outrage’ to it that is interesting. There is definitely an element of self-valorisation in the Green camp, i.e. we are morally good those who disagree with us are morally bad.
This oppositional moral outrage of the Greens (and I’m using the term broadly – I’m not referring specifically to The green Party) seems to be based on a number of assumptions, which include:
- Man made climate change is happening.
- It will have overwhelmingly negative, possibly catastrophic effects.
- By changing our behaviour Human Beings could stop and/or reverse man made climate change.
- The interests of Human Beings should not be privileged over the interests of other species of animals and plants, i.e. there is a moral equivalence between human beings and all other living things.
- That each individual human being is equally morally responsible for man made climate change.
- Therefore each human being has a moral duty to do everything they can to stop or if possible reverse man made climate change.
- Those who do not accept this argument are morally bad.
Underlying these conclusions is a vague but powerful moral notion that human beings are a ‘plague’ on the earth and that technological progress is ‘hubristic’ and will lead to our eventual downfall.
For example at a Fighting Film screening I organised last year of Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth, a young Green seriously suggested that the answer to climate change was for us all to return to subsistence farming and to live without electricity. A young Rumanian student whose family had lived that way in his lifetime was incandescent with rage at what he (and I) regarded as an extraordinarily misguided sentiment.
And for me this is the basic problem of the Green rhetoric, i.e. that many of their solutions are simply not going to happen.
If we lived in a time of natural climate change then altering our behaviours (waste and carbon emissions) would be irrelevant. We would need to develop technological responses to climate change.
So we are back to the initial questions – even if we assume for the sake of the argument that climate change is man made and that it’s effects will be overwhelmingly negative, even catastrophic, that still begs the questions: can it be halted or reversed and if so, what can we do to stop it or reverse it?
Greens suggest we have to overturn our entire civilisation in order to stop or reverse climate change. But to bring this about would require a worldwide totalitarian government that imposed a pre-technological lifestyle on us all, which
The other way the Green’s propose is for us all to individually change our behaviour. But I think this makes the fundamental error of buying into the neoliberal economists notion of the individual as an autonomous rational decision maker. Even most economists acknowledge that this rational consumer is actually a metaphor and does not exist in the real world, so for the Greens to suggest using a version of a metaphorical capitalist market mechanism to ameliorate the effects of the capitalist system is ironic to say the least.
If catastrophic man made climate change is a reality, it is the result of the industrial revolution and the waste and irresponsible short-term exploitation of natural resources inherent in capitalism. Green politics is not distinct from politics, and to be fair most Green’s acknowledge this, but the truth is the only credible way we are going address climate change is through technology.
The moral tone of too much Green rhetoric tries to demonise ordinary people just for living their lives. In this Neoliberal age most ordinary people are depressed, disempowered, exhausted and fearful, a great deal of the time. It is entirely self-defeating to criticise us for going on holiday or preferring to drive to work rather than add an hour to their working day by cycling. I find the seemingly never-ending recycling agenda particularly irritating. Especially as both the cost and climate change benefits of recycling are highly contested. The Greens emphasis on ‘personal responsibility’ is basically externalising the costs involved in making packaging less carbon wasteful from the wealthy shareholders of multi-national corporations to you and me! When the supermarkets and manufacturers are forced through regulation to start reducing packaging then we might stand some chance, in the meantime I don’t think it is helpful to try and force me (through waste collection regulation) to do their job for them!