Partisan politics should buzz off, it isn’t going to save the world
Put aside the hopelessly apocalyptic ecologists and ridiculously hopeful right wing - we need a new brand of green politics
I used to hate the idea of visiting a rainforest for fear of things landing on me – icky, yucky flying things – but now I needn’t worry.
Research from Puerto Rico has found that over 35 years, 98% of ground-level insects have gone. Up in the canopy, it’s 80%. And a new analysis of 73 such studies has found that, globally, more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, owing to climate change, pesticides, urbanisation and light pollution. On English farmland, from 2000 to 2009, butterfly species collapsed by 58%.
This is what will really destroy the world: not state capture, not Liam Neeson’s one-man race war. If, as hypothesised, the world’s insects are gone within a century, it’s death to the ecosystem and curtains for humanity.
How strange, how silly, that environmentalism has become subsumed into the culture war, and yet that’s precisely where we’re at. On the one side, you have conservatives – a certain kind of conservative, anyway – who sees ecologists as a threat to economic growth and personal liberty. On the other side, you have a green movement that appears determined to live up to that stereotype, what the journalist James Delingpole cleverly calls “watermelons”: green on the outside but red on the inside.
There’s something particularly watermelony about the Green New Deal currently being pushed in the US by left-wing Democrats: a Trojan horse-style plan that combines a rush to create a net-zero carbon economy with free university and (in one version) “economic security” for those who are “unwilling to work”. Conservatives laughed when they read it, especially at the bit that suggested trains might eventually replace planes. “That would be pretty hard for Hawaii,” said a Democratic senator from the islands that sit 4,000km from the nearest American shore.
But Puerto Rico is part of the US, too, and the death of the natural environment there should matter every bit as much as maintaining the tourism industry in Honolulu.
Yes, the naivety of the Green New Deal is funny, but the more I leafed through the rebuttals from right-wing think tanks (the Milton Friedman society for ceaseless growth, etc), the more the defence of the consumer and free markets seem like a thin justification for squeezing the very last juice out of the fruit that is our lovely planet, and the more dumb it seems, too.
The ecologists have their own religion, worship of Mother Earth, but while they’re sometimes hopelessly apocalyptic, the right-wing opposition seems ridiculously hopeful. It relies on the promise that technology will save us. But what if it won’t? What if, actually, we’ve reached a point in civilisation when genuine sacrifice is needed simply to keep the bees pollinating the plants?
A good test of character is what someone thinks should be done about a tree that stands in the way of a new road. Put aside angst about climate change and just focus on the immediate environment. If, like me, you see the purpose of conservatism as being to preserve the good life, then bees, birds, flowers and wild open spaces are part of it. Ergo, you’ve got to pick the tree over the motorway. You might ask if the road could be built around it, but if diversion isn’t possible and a choice must be made, then a kilometre of asphalt cannot win over a 1,000-year-old oak, home to fungi and beetles, sustenance to badgers and deer, carved with the names of passing lovers.
Yes, we have failed as stewards of creation. Yes, a lot of forest has been destroyed. But the good news is that the clock can be turned back.
Take West Virginia, which sort of sits midway between Hawaii and Puerto Rico. If you’d visited parts of that state in the 19th century, you’d have found an appalling wasteland. The logging boom cut down 30 billion board feet of ancient woodland. So hideous was this lunar landscape, and so miserable was life down the mines, that there briefly flourished a Protestant congregation called the Appalachian No-Hellers. They taught that there was no inferno after death because nothing could be worse than living in West Virginia: this was Hell itself.
In 1911, thank God, Congress voted to establish national forests. Today, after decades of regrowth, much of the Appalachians is green again, so green you’d think they had been untouched for centuries; and the doubly good news is that they still log there. Just intelligently, rather than to the point of irrevocable mutilation.
This ought to be the basis for a non-partisan green politics, based upon a consensus that to go on living the way we like, we have to make changes to sustain what we love.
Most conservatives I know would be the first to lie in front of a bulldozer to save a tree, or else would move heaven and Earth and all the furniture necessary to ferry a stranded ladybird from living room to garden. This has nothing to do with socialism and everything to do with stewardship. The need for it becomes more apparent as the seasons change, and the world we once knew and expect fails to appear.
– © The Daily Telegraph