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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

When the facts change…

I still think of myself as an environmentalist. Almost everyone is interested in their living conditions. So I hope in that sense you do, too.

My problem with greenery is that I also think. Something that many greens have given up decades past. It was apparent to me even 20 years ago, that most were adapting their understanding of the problems – and indeed inventing problems – to match their prefabricated concept of a good society. I tried to fix that. I failed.

There are lots of exceptions, and I still have a lot of time for those who hang on to rationality. But unfortunately they tend to feel too much loyalty to the Green brand to distinguish themselves from it. Maybe this is good politics, but I think it is bad policy. Fostering craziness leads to the growth of craziness.

Here is a profession of the true, mad, faith from The Ecologist, a magazine that has otherwise been gently drifting from the hard-core towards the mainstream since Zac Goldsmith took over from his late uncle. ‘Cassandra’ writes:

I listened [to Julian Morris at a Conservative Party climate change seminar] in a sort of daze of disbelief that anyone professing to profess anything at all in matters academic could be so divorced from the realities around him and so blind as to where we are heading.

The rich countries have reached their current unsteady and unsustainable apex of ‘development’ by bankrupting our posterity of basic resources such as oil; by perpetrating crimes against the natural world in terms of species poisoning and elimination, of soil and oceanic degradation that will beggar humanity for generations; by promoting the biological hoodlumism of global warming; and by disintegrating our local community structures, the oldest social unit in all human history, to such a degree that our prisons and hospitals are full to overflowing and figures for such ills as cancer, venereal infections, juvenile behaviour disorders and psychotic forms of family breakdown are climbing to ever higher levels as millions resort increasingly to drugs and opiates to relieve the stresses all this wonderful development is imposing on them.

And so on, in a column so rich in lunacy as to defy fisking. Cancer and sexually transmitted disease are caused by wealth. Burning oil is “biological hoodlumism” but nonetheless it is a basic resource of which we are short. The corollary: “we should be embarking on a massive programme of de-industrialisation”.

My question for such anti-humanist zealots is the same logical positivist one that I have for the religious fundamentalists: is there any conceivable evidence from which you would not derive the same conclusions? The mythic pseudonym should be Procrustes, not Cassandra.

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23 comments to When the facts change…

  • I wish this Cassandra will live up to part of her famous namesake by being ignored. Unfortunately I think that she will actually reverse Cassandra’s curse and while she will be always wrong she will be believed.

  • The truly amusing thing is that if you go back and read “Blueprint for Survival” (edition two of that magazine and largely written by Uncle Teddy) you do indeed find some weird and odd beliefs (a return to Morris’ Arts and Crafts ideas for example) and also some terribly sensible ones.
    Pigouvian taxation (making the price equal the real cost) is advocated, just as it is in the Stern Review and as is generally accepted as correct in mainstream economics now.
    There’s still a woeful blindness in the environmental movement about the way in which their original ideas have become mainstream, which is perhaps why they keep getting ever more extreme.

  • Jacob

    The problem is – these people are lunatic, but are no fringe, they are mainstream.
    One of them almost became President of the USA.


  • Pigouvian taxation (making the price equal the real cost)

    Except that paying money to the state has no causal link to the activity supposedly being ‘equalised’, never mind the fact the formulae used are always pure voodoo.

    The rate of tax in any instance, in all cases, is what the state can get people to pay without causing a jacquerie, and all the blather around it pure artifice.

  • Sandy P

    More cluelessness, but they do feel good about themselves, via Instapundit:

    Eco-Socialites Make Cleaning Green a Priority

    Since I think I’ll blow the link, Instapundit can help.

  • Sandy P

    More cluelessness, but they do feel good about themselves, via Instapundit:

    Eco-Socialites Make Cleaning Green a Priority

    …Her guests, familiar fixtures in the party pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, were improbable grime fighters. They included young society stalwarts like Renée Rockefeller, Valesca Guerrand-Hermès, Melania Trump and Jessica Seinfeld. Given their designer wardrobes, their houses flung about the country, and an aggregate income the size of a small duchy, they were odd candidates for a sales pitch that urged looking beneath the kitchen sink and tossing out your toxic powders and sprays…..

    Since I think I’ll blow the link, Instapundit can help.

  • Phil A

    The problem is – these people are lunatic, but are no fringe, they are mainstream.
    One of them almost became President of the USA.

    And what’s the betting he looses a few pounds and parlays his Oscar into another run at it, right over Hill’s efforts? No love lost there.

  • Shannon Love

    I think its important to look at Environmentalism and other mass movements as primarily a social phenomenon driven by the basic human drive for social status.

    I think these people build their arguments backwards. The imagine the kind of world in which they are the highest status individuals and then they construct elaborate rationales as to why this should be so. Classical Marxism, for example, is really just a baroque rationale for why articulate intellectuals should supplant capitalist at the top of the social order.

    Environmentalist want to use the looming threat of future disasters to justify the same power shift. They select their descriptions of problems based on their social needs not the actual technical realities.

  • veryretired

    One of the assertions of the “deep green” movement is that the human population of the Earth would have to be around 100 million for our devastation of the environment to come to an end.

    I will leave it to you to imagine how this reduction might be brought about, and to attempt to understand the level of self-hatred which might inspire someone to make that statement about one’s own species.

    It is not too much to consider radical environmentalism as a form of apocalyptic prophecy, deeply religious and faith based, irrational and spiritulistic.

    The unrelenting hostility towards heretics, apostates, and non-believers also becomes more comprehensible when the cultist nature of the dogma is understood.

    Disagreement is not merely an opinion, but evil.

    We generally assume that, when someone has a differing viewpoint, they are trying to reach a conclusion which is best for all concerned, even if we vehemently disagree about the means to that end.

    That assumption is invalid in the case of deep greens (and radical animal activists as well). The reduction of humans, both in numbers and in levels of advancement beyond bare subsistence, is one of their primary goals.

    If humanity itself is nothing more than a scourge, a cancerous growth, upon the biosphere, then any step taken against it is justified.

    The answer to Guy’s question is: evidence doesn’t matter. Humans are evil by nature, and can only produce evil unless rigidly controlled and directed toward, if not the good, than at least the neutral and non-destructive.

    And, as Shannon points out, guess who gets to do the directing?

    Next to Islamic fascism, this viewpoint is the most insidious threat to the continued development of human society that we face. Nothing less than the de-industrialization of human culture, and a return to subsistence, minimalist existence will suffice to satisfy their demands.

  • I agree with veryretired but i also think it’s important not to become anti-green just because you don’t like the shape the Green movement has taken.

    I am convinced that the growing ‘Climate Change Denier’ movement is partly in response to the religious and totalitarian nature of the Green movement.

  • Articulate intellectuals?
    You mean murdering freaks whose minds are choked by paranoia and whose words are recycled gibberish?

  • Brad

    Almost everyone is interested in their living conditions

    This is true. I, too, am an environmentalist when the question is a sewage pipe terminaling in my backyard. This sentiment is hijacked and turned into a religion. In fact one could say almost every philosophy has roots in common sense, it can just gets turned in its head.

    I think its important to look at Environmentalism and other mass movements as primarily a social phenomenon driven by the basic human drive for social status.

    I think these people build their arguments backwards. The imagine the kind of world in which they are the highest status individuals and then they construct elaborate rationales as to why this should be so.

    This is also very true. But it takes two to tango. For every egghead with plan and a mid-grade case of grandiose schizophrenia, there has to be a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand superstitious souls wanting and willing to be led. It would seem most people want “betters” of some sort, and there is quite a supply. Just as there are those who axiomatically find ways to justify their superiority, there are those who axiomatically find reasons to subserve. Unfortunately, the cross currents of such dynamics has a meeting place for compromise known as the State through which those who do not choose live superstitiously, or be a Leader of Men, or nonetheless drug down the rabbit hole.

  • Jacob

    “…the growing ‘Climate Change Denier’ movement is partly in response…”

    In response to people learning more about it (climate change) , and perceiving that the claims of an impending catastrophe are unfounded.

  • Paul Marks

    There are a couple of standard tests to see who is a person who, rightly or wrongly, is concerned about C02 emissions and who is just a “death to capitalism” type.

    Are they in favour of getting regulations on atomic power (it is not in the interests of power companies to hurt their customers with radiation and they would be sued to bits if they did – the “health and safety” regulations push up costs but they do not improve safety, in fact they make things less safe by demanding that power companies operate in certain ways, rather than better ways).

    And are they in favour of taking the regulations (including the pro union regulations) away from the railway industry – so that railway companies (real railway companies who own the track and trains – not the politically connected “train operating franchises” of Britain) can really compete with road travel.

    My guess is that the vast majority of “environmentalists” fail both of the above tests.

    Just as the fail such tests as getting rid of capital gains tax, without which such investments as the development of economic electric cars, or new types of solar cell to power the “cracking” of sea water for hydrogen (for hydrogen fuel cell technology) are far less likely.

    “Atomic power, unrestricted private railways and other tranport systems, getting rid of capital gains tax and other taxes and regulations” – “this is not what we Greens want”.

    I know this is not what they want – because their first concern is not really the “environment” at all. This is just an excuse for an attack on civil society – “capitalism”.

    Still there are some good surprises.

    For example the “Gaia” (Mother Earth) man, James Lovelock, came out in favour of atomic power (he even offered to have all waste buried in his garden), and in favour of lower taxes (at least on companies investing in new technology in various areas).

    So they are not all frauds.

  • magnetic north

    Paul Marks: you are quite right.

    Imagine that the vehicles and fuel supply infrastructure for effective zero-carbon transportation were to be put in place overnight (OK, five years), through some miraculous joint venture of Ford and BP.

    Would Greens celebrate?

    As you say, they are not all frauds. Some would be delighted. But others would, I conjecture, feel let down. For many Greens, the modern world is an evil that they instinctively recognise as such. All the scientific evidence for the man-made greenhouse effect is a welcome accident to these people. It provides them not only with validation for their anti-industrial and anti-capitalist sentiments, but also with a persuasive tool, with which to win converts.

    Technology that might allow the world to continue looking as it does now, but with a much-reduced threat from global warming, would not make this shade of Green happy at all. They want a radical transformation of our society and economy, which they would see as good in its own right, not as a means to achieve a physically measurable end.

    For these people, the above fantasy would be a setback, not an advance. They would have to put their political case openly to the public, without the logically distinct, but presently entangled, scientific case.

  • veryretired


    It is not I who have abandoned the idea of a more healthy environment, but the greens.

    In any movement, the more radical members have a tendency to set the agenda, and drag the rest of the less committed along with them.

    Some of the basic tenets of environmentalism are based on a serious antipathy towards industrial/technological development of any kind, which translates very quickly into an antipathy towards capitalist economies and the “excesses” of private and corporate greed.

    This is the mindset of the typical semi-collectivist product of the 20th century. The animus against private property and private business is built-in and reflexive.

    When was there ever a big campaign or demonstration about the horrendously polluting policies of the Soviets, or Chinese? If someone’s focus was truly on the environment, why simply ignore the well documented problems with state run enterprises and collectivist economies?

    It is analagous to the rabid anti-globalist movement.

    If one is truly concerned about the spread of an economic and political system which has deleterious effects on the unfortunate populations which fall under its sway, look back over the monstrous history of the 20th century and tell me which ideology should arouse such ferocious antagonism? Capitalism or collectivism?

    Radical environmentalism has adopted the logic and many of the intellectual positions of the former marxist inspired movements against capitalism and private property.

    The radicals have coopted the genuine concern many people legitimately have about air and water pollution, or food safety, or resource depletion, (which, by the way, is mostly a red herring, anyway), and use it as a stalking horse to disguise positions which, in fact, have little or nothing to do with improving the environment, and a whole lot to do with who will gain control of how future development is approved and financed.

    The campaign involves making everything a political question, to be decided as a matter of public policy, open to influence and money from activists and “concerned” people, and indifferent to private property, economic realities, and the jobs and livelihoods of those poor, inarticulate boobs who just happen to do the work of the world, and pay for all of this crapping around.

    I hope to be up to my armpits in grandchildren and great-granchildren some day. I desire that their world be a better place—free, clean, industious, technologically advancing on every possible front, and well served by an intellectual, political, and cultural leadership which functions rationally, and with a high regard for the rights and liberties of the hard working, middle class, ordinary men and women who make the world go around.

    I frankly do not see much of that future in the collectivist dogma and irrational idologies of the various deep green, anti-globalist, anti-development, anti-individual, anti-technology, anti-humanity rioting little storm troopers who man the barricades whenever the word “capitalism” is uttered.

    That is the “shape” I object to, and the consistent direction I see the radicals moving towards.

    They very clearly state they hate everything about how I live, and how the society I inhabit operates, from top to bottom, and from side to side. They repeatedly state they want the way I live to stop, and demand the right and power to remake my life any way they see fit.

    Why should I doubt their sincerity? And, even more importantly, why should I support their doing it?

  • nick g.

    When the facts change…. CHANGE THEM BACK!!!! How dare facts just up and change like that, without warning! The old facts were good enough for Grand-Pa, so they should be good enough for you and me!!! I mean, really! There ought to be a law!!!

  • Paul Marks

    Guy was pointing to a line from Lord Keynes “when the facts changed I change my opinion” (or words to that effect). Which J.M. Keynes came out with when someone (I forget who) pointed out that he contradicted himself (on free trade versus restrictions – and many other matters).

    Of course “the facts” had not changed at all, that old fraud Keynes was just trying to create a get out clause for himself.

    On the environment: very retired (and the other people above) are quite correct.

    It is denial of private property right that produces vast environmental damage (everything from the state of Chinese rivers to the damage caused to “public” forests all over the world), but this is does not stop the majority of Greens demanding that the public power control X, Y, Z.

    They are watermelons – green on the outside and red on the inside.

  • guy herbert

    “The facts” can mean both our understanding of the world and the particular circumstances. Either can change and whether or not he was being mendacious on that occasion, I think Keynes’s point is valid.

    Many Greens (and ideologues of every stripe) deign to notice things in the world only when they take them to support their preconceived notions. Consistency over time is not necessarily a virtue.

  • Paul Marks

    Guy, I was not attacking you.

    As for Keynes he was not making philosphical point – he was just ducking and diving (ditto “in the long run we are all dead” and all his other clever-clever verbal dodges).

    You might as well cite Stephen Fry’s latest work (which a friend recently gave me as a present) “The Book of General Ignorance” (well Mr Fry wrote the forward anyway). The blue whale not the largest animal because a certain worm in longer (notice the move from “largest” to “longest”) or Adolf Hitler not a athiest because he once claimed to be a Roman Catholic (also supposedly the National Socialist state “enthusiastically worked with the Catholic church” – page 215).

    For the reality of Adolf Hitler’s opinion of religion see private words (such as his “Table Talk”) and for the persecution of and propaganda against Roman Catholics and others by the National Socialists see Michael Burleigh’s “Sacred Causes” (Harperpress 2006).

    However, Burleigh is not good at clever one liners – so I doubt his work will have so much impact.

    People like Fry and Keynes have an impact because they are clever with words and have “connections” with the right people – not because their thought is of value. I admit that I have a hatred for “cleverness” (which, in my experience, is just another way of saying dishonest and shallow), but my point remains valid.

    Still at least Stephen Fry is consistant in his support for civil liberties. I can not see him doing what Keynes did in the German edition of the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money – i.e. write a forward stating that the sort of government that planned wages and prices (such as the National Socialist government of course) was far better than the sort of government that silly old fashioned Britain had.

    However I agree that being consistant in error is not a virtue.

    One must always be open to new information and – (far more importantly) logical examination of what one already believes.

    Far more damage is done in politics (and many other things) by errors of reasoning (of which we are all capable) than by having incorrect information.

  • Paul Marks

    I was unfair to Stephen Fry above, there are some good bits in “The Book of General Ignorance” (Faber and Faber, London, 2006). And some myths (such as the Bastille being full of prisoners and these prisoners being badly treated) are rightly attacked – but there are some “clever” bits to the book, and a few things that are (as I mentioned) just wrong.

    Still I apologize.

    As for environmentalism.

    There is an interesting example from local affairs (in various parts of the United Kingdom abd other places). Libertarians are often told that we should not oppose “development” schemes as these are an example of private enterprise (i.e. commercial parts of civil society).

    A useful test is to ask such questions as “who is to provide and maintain the roads for this development”. If the builder says “I will of course”, then the development is all well and good. But normally it turns out that the developers are relying on the taxpayer for all sorts of things.

  • Sunfish

    Paul Marks:

    Libertarians are often told that we should not oppose “development” schemes as these are an example of private enterprise (i.e. commercial parts of civil society).

    I suppose I could rant on about Kelo v. New London, and similar events in my neighborhood (most of them being Wal-Mart trying to convince cities to seize empty lots and lakes for use as parking lots) but we’ve been there.

    There’s an organization called the Nature Conservancy, which maintains wildlife habitat. They have a beautiful way of blocking development in places where they think it shouldn’t happen: They simply buy it.

    I worked on the fringes of one of their projects some years ago, where they formed a dummy corporation to buy some land that was being considered for a shopping mall. The developers were livid when they found out. Supposedly, they even tried to convince the county board to seize the land from the NC under eminent domain, but that was a rumor that I wasn’t able to confirm.

    The ones who’ve been driving me nuts lately are the welfare ranchers. They rent land from the Federal government and run cattle on it. The problem I have is, they overgraze it while paying Uncle Sucker less than a third of what it would cost to rent the land in the private sector. Then they fence it off (illegally). Then they claim that if their hand-outs were stopped it would be the end of capitalism and the free market and cheap beef in the US.

    And the land they try to lock up is generally tolerably good for hunting, when it isn’t overgrazed. I’d more than be willing to pay a reasonable trespass fee to hunt it. Some state lands already have that, as a surcharge on the hunting license fee. I’d even be willing to write a check to a private landowner for the access or swap a few hours of labor. It’s (at least in significant part) the market-distorting power of government that makes this so damn difficult.

    (Grrr…now I’m going to rant about losing the use of a really nice mountain trail because of the abuses of tort law…see what you started, Paul?)

  • Paul Marks


    “Eminent domain” – yes evil.

    The normal come back is “well then private railway companies could not have built their tracks in highly populated countries”.

    This is quite false, they would have had to pay the landowners a good price – or (if a certain group of landowners would not sell at any price) have built a different route (where landowners were happy to sell to them).

    For example when the landowners of Stamford (a town near me) blocked a land theft bill in Parliament in the 19th century, the railway company simply built the “east coast mainline” via Peterborough instead.

    As for “public land”.

    Well unless it is an area (not exceeding ten miles square) for use as the capital, or land purchased (with the consent of the State it is in) “for the errection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards and other needful buildings” there should not be any Federal land anyway (as you know – Article One, Section Eight, United States Constitution).

    Of course before an area is a State things are different – but that has not been true since 1959 (Alaska and Hawaii 50).

    Military training areas can be sorted out with the States concerned.

    But other than that “Federal land” (about a third of the nation if my memory does not play me false) should be sold – to individuals, and organizations (including to environmental organizations).

    Selling this land, along with the Postal Service and the Interstate road system (Congress may spend money on “post offices and post roads” it does not have to do so), should raise enough money to help “pay off” those dependent on government “pensions” (social security) and other such.