Friday, August 20, 2010

Deep Greens, Environmentalists, Paul Kingsnorth - and Jeremy Clarkson

Over on openDemocracy, there is a debate over Paul Kingsnorth's  position. He is unhappy that environmentalists support renewable energy systems, because of their impacts, and because of the influence of the Left in the green movement. He sets out his position here. This is my response:

As a Green Party activist, I would be reluctant to be labelled with any "-ism", even ecologism, since -isms usually signify that all reality is in the process of being shoe-horned into one ideological box. I could make an exception, on the grounds that ecology does refer to all reality.

Green political philosophy is based, uniquely, on the realisation that mankind is not a being in itself, but that our existence is dependent on a biosphere that we are in the process of destroying in a long, progressive act of mass suicide. Green is a political philosophy based on human ecology, the study of the interrelationship between humankind and our environment. It is unique, because all other political philosophies are anthropocentric, based on a view of one human attribute, whether that be our social aspect, or our individual aspect, our need for freedom or our need for rules. Each absolutises that aspect, which ends up with a distortion of reality - and degredation and devaluation of both those humans who do not conform to the model, and the non-human world which is sidelined by the philosophy.

Ecology is not a thing, it is a relationship. Paul Kingsnorth's position, it seems to me, is not so much ecocentric as allocentric, in that he makes his absolute reference point the non-human part of Nature. It seems his ideal would be a world in which he alone is in a position to view the wilderness, perhaps able to go back to a small community of like minded souls. We should remember that if everyone lived like Arne Ness, the deep ecologist, there would be no wilderness, just an ex-wilderness dotted with hermitages spaced equidistantly from each other.

It all comes down to the famous Irish direction: "To get there, you don't want to start from here."  Well, right, but we are here, there are too many of us, we are causing a massive extinction event, and we are wrecking our planet's thermostat.

The work of green politicians is to guide mankind from its present autistic (in the sense of self-preoccupied) position to a place where humanity is living in balance with nature. It is a difficult job, which involves difficult choices, such as putting up technology that harvests the abundant energy that the sun gives us, in the knowledge that it will offend the retinae of Paul Kingsnorth and others who see a well loved skyline or horizon changed; likewise putting up long distance electicity gridlines. But if the alternative to these regrettable visual intrusions is runaway climate change and resource wars, that is a choice that we have to make.

Categorisation is always dubious. Positions on continua is usually more true to the state of affairs. To try to split the green movement into deep greens and shallow greens, ecocentrics and environmentalists, is unhelpful. Likewise the categorisation I gave above - into ecologists and anthropocentrists.

At heart, every human has a love of Nature. There is a green light in every human heart, based on some moment of wonder as the child sees nature for what it is. Some, like Thomas Traherne, and perhaps Paul Kingsnorth, have this to almost painful degree. In others, the memory is almost forgotten, buried under mistaken ideologies and day-to-day concerns.

Categorisations lead to disputes. Some disputes are necessary. The major dispute of our present time is between the free market fundamentalists who are in the driving seat,  the Jeremy Clarksons who flooring it on a road that leads over a cliff, and the ecological economists who are trying to persuade him to stop and take a look at the map.

Compared to this, debates between the nuanced differences between ecologists are pretty peripheral.
Ultimately, we are all one family, and we have to learn how to get from the madhouse of where we are to a position where the needs of humanity and the health of the natural system that sustains humanity are in balance.

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