Sunday, 7 November 2010

Why I am not 'Green'

I just watched the channel four documentary on the failures of the green movement and as an environmentalist but also as a sceptic I found it uniquely informing and beautifully biased all at the same time. I say that I am an environmentalist because I feel a great deal of sympathy for the environment, I am driven to see the world as one great living and organic system, where all things are connected and there are no externalities. I also say I am a sceptic, because like any good bedfellow I hate baggage. When I say I care deeply for the environment and I am concerned for the well-being of living systems that does not mean that I immediately subscribe to the plethora of dogmatic beliefs that have become increasingly associated with the green movement. If an idea is based on careful thought and evidence, calm consideration and introspection weighed equally with investigation and experiment, then it is worth adhering to both morally and intellectually. To pick a course of action based solely on either motive, pure reason with no morality ('Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds' The cataclysmic realisation of man dedicated to mental pursuits who had never considered the moral implications of his work) and pure morality with no reason (ever had a good conversation with a fundamentalist Christian) is a mistake. Sound arguments and reasonable opinions are formed from both good evidence and benevolence in equal measure. The existence of GM crops or nuclear power alone do not make them inherently bad technologies. We must use the twin tools of our understanding and intuition to decipher their purpose and place in our world. Green ideology, like any other fixed system of beliefs has caused heartache and suffering on a number of occasions, ranging from the attacks on animal welfare scientists and zoo staff to the promotion of dolphin friendly tuna (the long lining technique employed in this practice kills hundreds of species that, unlike pelagic dolphin species, actually are endangered. This includes such animals as sea birds, sharks and turtles.).

Now given that I am not a hardcore 'Green' individual, in that I do not subscribe to any formalised dogma on the issue, I feel that I can restate my initial position. The documentary was informing because like so many opinions it revealed more about the individuals and organisations representing those opinions than it did about the actual points of view themselves. The leading proponents of the video were for the most part people with specific corporate lobbying goals (anti climate change think tanks, oil company boys and industrial agriculture spokespeople), these individuals had clear financial incentives to represent the world in certain way. Furthermore, they were unclear and elusive about the organisations that they belonged to and the data that they were presenting. So, based on my earlier assessment of morality (which I assume includes openness, honesty and benevolence...pretty big cornerstones of being a well rounded individual) score one for the Greens. In comparison Greenpeace presented a clear list of their sources for any given argument and gave arguments based on ideas rooted in ethics, local custom and evidence.

My scientifically minded followers will by this point be baying for blood, give us the evidence! Well I cannot, indeed I did not have the pleasure of watching the original documentary. I watched the version that was shown after the MORI group (a survey group) filed a complaint against the documentary. This complaint was upheld and the statistics used in the documentary were removed. As such the actual evidence presented concerning the failure of the green movement consisted of interviews with people attending music festivals, reports from biased sources and some strong opinionated dialogue.

I immediately dismissed the documentary. In my mind it had failed to provide a strong ethical or reasonable argument to support its case. My concern and consideration were aroused not by what seemed to be and attempted to excite opinion (and increase ratings), but by the loaded and fiery response by Greenpeace. It claimed that channel four is against the green ideas and attacked the individuals responsible for the documentary. In a situation where there is an obvious call for clarity, reason and ethics I am disappointed that this is the road taken.

In this issue I am reminded of an old Chinese proverb. 'A young boy walks into the kitchen and smells the boiling food. He sees his mother is not around so he reaches out to the pot to grasp it. He recoils in pain, crying and runs to his father. 'The pan is too hot', he moans. His sister looks at him and tells him, 'silly boy, it is just not cold enough yet.'. The father smiles and says, 'you are both right, in order to understand hot I must know cold, and to know of cold means that I understand hot. These things are simply manifestations, it is how you interact with the world and its changes that is important.''


  1. I think one of the problems of big questions is it's hard to speak to them without a lot of research.

    I don't think any of us have a well grounded opinion on the likelihood of string theory solving the quantum gravity problem.

    However some big questions are really relevant, like questions of ecology, questions of politics, questions of morality and being etc, they impact how people live their lives day to day so people have to have opinions on them.

    I think this causes a lot of the strain around big issues, everyone is arguing from different research and assumptions (of differing levels of rigor) and everyone is very keen to argue something.

    I am beginning to think that the way forwards is to look inwards (and I say this as encouragement to move east with your blog, and because I like being pompous). That actually you can be satisfied with a very small amount of material possessions and the way is to generate great contentment and happiness inside yourself, that is what to do about the environment, burden it with less demands.

    But then again I suck at this, and should practice what I preach, and preach less.


    Oh yeah! Before I post this, I think that idea of opposites defining each other, hot defining cold and good defining bad is down near the root of delusion, it's just wrong.

    It's almost as bad as "I think therefore I am".

  2. Im not behind the opposities defining each other as the key point here (but then again I'm not particularly hostile to it as a logical idea either, Hegel and a good deal of Eastern philosophers were quite fond of it). The point I was trying to get at was that the opposities are not the real bit. Yin and Yang are not the real thing, its the whole picture that is the real thing. Left and right politics are not the real thing, they are just ideas, governing well is the real thing. People get caught up in the manifestations and miss the true picture.