The Green Hegemony

The following are extracts from an ABC News bulletin broadcast on 30 January:

Wilderness photographer and bushwalker Dan Broun has just returned from the Central Plateau.
Vision he filmed shows how the fires have raced through the area, which is home to unique alpine flora including pencil pines, king billy pines and cushion plants, some more than 1,000 years old.
Mr Broun walked four hours into the bushfire affected areas on Saturday. “We need for people to understand that this is not a natural event.”

Ecologist Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick is also upset by the loss of alpine flora. “They’re killed by fire and they don’t come back,” said Professor Kirkpatrick. “It’s a species that would have been around in the cretaceous period. It’s regarded as one of the main reasons for listing Tasmania as a world heritage area.”

Fire ecologist David Bowman said the fires burning in Tasmania were a sign of climate change.
“This is bigger than us. This is what climate change looks like, this is what scientists have been telling people, this is system collapse.”

One cannot help but be saddened by this bushfire and the devastation it has wrought in the Tasmanian Highlands but the conclusions being drawn by the ABC’s experts are plain nonsense.
The nearest met station to the area under discussion is Liawenee, where, fortuitously, the Hydro Electric Commission began keeping records in the 1920s. According to the archives the mean annual rainfall between 1920 and 1926 was 1072 mm and that between 2003 and 2015 was 929 mm, a difference of only 13 percent. Furthermore average annual rainfall between 1957 and 1963 was even smaller, being only 914 mm.

There is no evidence of a change in the climate in this area and Prof. Bowman’s statement that “This is what climate change looks like … this is system collapse.” is not supported by the facts. Prof. Kirkpatrick’s similar lament that species that “have been around since the cretaceous” are “killed by fire and … don’t come back” is equally hard to swallow. Are we really expected to believe that, after 70 million years of ice-ages, cosmic impacts and major bushfires, conditions are so bad right now that these species are suddenly gone for good? Are we to believe that the alpine herbfield of the Highlands has never burned before?

Wildfire is a natural phenomenon in the Tasmanian landscape and this was so for millions of years prior to the arrival of humans. Indeed many indigenous species have evolved to deal with fire, and some, the eucalypts, even use fire to compete with rainforest species. And yet here we have two of the state’s foremost ecologists seemingly implying that somehow all this is Man’s handiwork.

What is behind these alarmist statements?

In my view they are a manifestation of the Green Hegemony which has been growing for the last 70 years or so. The communist intellectual, Gramsci, developed the idea of cultural hegemony to describe the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of that society — the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so that their ruling-class world-view becomes the world-view that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm. In our dealings with the natural world we are expected to kow-tow to university scientists such as Bowman and Kirkpatrick who constitute a de facto intellectual elite, even though their fervently held opinions do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Some of the beliefs, explanations etc., i.e. the principles, that underlie this hegemony are as follows:

  • that there is a “natural balance”,
  • that this balance is disturbed by humanity to the detriment of Nature and
  • that any change in the natural world is evidence of such disturbance.

From these simple axioms many conclusions are drawn, such as

  1. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing and this is entirely due to human industrial activity and land use changes.
  2. Global average temperature is fluctuating therefore all increases (but not decreases) are due to #1 above.
  3. That the number of individuals of many animal and plant species are changing therefore this is always due to environmental and climate changes wrought by humanity.
  4. That there are too many people on the Planet.
  5. That the Planet would be better off if there were no people at all.
  6. That the Planet is facing immanent environmental disaster.
  7. That it is therefore imperative that we limit industrial activity.
  8. That it is therefore imperative that we limit population.
  9. That we do not have time to verify these conclusions using the scientific method but must act immediately before it is too late.

Firstly let me say – this is not science. These are not scientific principles thrashed out over the centuries by the Newtons and the Einsteins. The above principles correspond more closely to religious beliefs – ideas of purity and defilement are present in many religions; the Christians have the idea of original sin. In my view the Environmental Hegemony has come to hold sway partly as a result of the decline of religious belief in the West.

The three principles set out above can neither be proved nor disproved. They are a given. No-one has ever demonstrated that there is, or was, a natural balance. Indeed when a “natural balance” is observed, for example, one large boulder balancing on another, it is a spectacle so rare it is given a name, “The Devil’s Marbles”, or some such and becomes a tourist attraction.

Certainly humanity has affected the natural world to a remarkable degree; witness the transformation of much of Northern Europe and North America from forest to farmland but whether this was desirable or detrimental is a value judgement. Only a century ago most people would have seen this transformation as desirable. Back in those days, “wilderness” was a pejorative term.

It is no coincidence that these beliefs have grown up since the advent of new technologies, typified by satellites and computers, enabled us to gather and view environmental data on an unprecedented scale. When we did this the results turned out to be rather shocking:

The Environment is changing all the time!

How can this be? It is supposed to be a steady-state, a natural balance, Paley’s timepiece. And yet it behaves in this seemingly random and erratic way whenever we look at the fine detail. Global temperature, sea ice extent, glacier extent, the composition of the atmosphere all vary over time.

Obviously something is going on here; perhaps humans are to blame.

People have always been aware of the random nature of the weather but it was assumed that over large regions of space and large intervals of time these irritating variations would “cancel one another out”. After all, everyone knows that if you toss a coin a sufficient number of times the closer you get to 50 percent heads and 50 percent tails. Why doesn’t the weather average out like that to give a stable climate?

Well, in fact it does but we never see “average weather”, we only see “sample” weather. If you toss a coin a number of times the number of heads minus the number of tails is rarely exactly zero and the difference between heads and tails generally gets further and further away from zero as the number of tosses increases. The difference between the number of heads and the number of tails is called a random walk; its variance increases with the length of the sample.

I have shown statistically that global average temperature is also a random walk implying that there is nothing unexpected nor unusual about global temperature. There is no need to look for an explanation in terms of CO2 or solar activity or anything else. There is nothing to explain. There has been no climate change, at least not since Termination I which happened 11,000 years ago. The variations we have seen over the last 135 years are only what you would expect to see. The slight upward trend is known as a spurious regression. It would be strange if global average temperature ware completely uniform. Had it been trending downwards the alarmists would be predicting another ice age (as indeed they were in the 1970s). Much the same argument can be applied to other natural phenomena – “threatened” species numbers, ice-pack extent and so on.

My paper on this topic can be found here. It has so far been rejected by the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society and by Tellus A, a prestigious Swedish meteorological journal.

It might be argued that even if the Green Hegemony is technically not proven scientifically, it is no bad thing to “care for the planet”.

I strongly disagree.

Back in the 1960s when Rachel Carson wrote “A Silent Spring” there was certainly a need for action. Industries were free to pollute, willy-nilly, with no thought for the consequences. Heavy metals and PCBs fouled our waterways and photochemical smog polluted the air we breathe. Something had to be done.

And so it was. Industry in Western countries was forced to clean up its act. This is only now starting to happen in emerging economies such as China whose example serves to show us how far we have come.

However in the process a whole new zeitgeist came into being, a sort of politicised pantheism which I am describing; the Green Hegemony.

There is a downside to this. Here are a few examples:

There is now a confusion of Environmentalism with science in people’s minds. We are seeing a corruption of scientific data sets and of the scientific process which accompanies that confusion. See, for example, Jennifer Marohasy’s blog. Many scientists now see it as more important to save the Planet than to understand it. Anything which serves that end is seen as good science. In effect, taxpayers are funding zealots to preach to them. The scientific method has been abandoned in climate change circles.

There is a growing incapacity to manage natural phenomena stemming from profound misunderstanding of the natural world – examples are the downgrading of hazard reduction in the management of bushfires (e.g. the Kinglake fires and the ensuing Royal Commission) and the grotesque mismanagement of the Macquarie Island ecosystem which cost the taxpayer $23 million to repair.

But worst of all is the anti-humanism that accompanies green zealotry. We need to be very, very careful about this.

In a recent post David Attenborough was quoted as saying that humanity is a scourge on the planet and that if we don’t limit our population ‘the natural world will do it for us’. This philosophy is called Malthusianism. This is discussed by Matt Ridley in his recent book “The Evolution of Everything”.

It lead directly to:

  1. The appalling treatment of the Irish during the Great Famine,
  2. The deliberate starvation of millions in India in 1877,
  3. The German Society for Racial Hygiene (1905),
  4. The forcible sterilization of over 5,000 people per month in Germany in the 1930s,
  5. The forcible sterilization of 63,000 people in the US in the 1970s and
  6. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

Of course “the natural world will do it for us”; all of my friends are ultimately going to die – that doesn’t mean I should go out and kill them.

Such a statement highlights the difference between being Left and being Green. The Left thinks Capitalism is despicable, the Greens think Humanity is despicable.

This is where it leads: to the delusions of state planning, of state control, of dirigisme, to the crushing of the human spirit, to a lack of faith in humanity itself. Imagine a world without humans; no chess, no mathematics, no science, no wonder, no dogs, no music, no painting, no art, no love, no conversation, no friends, no compassion.

Just bush.

Humanity is the best thing to happen to this planet, not the worst.

8 thoughts on “The Green Hegemony”

  1. Thanks John,
    A good read and fine logic.
    The philosophical background you describe I see as the stage from which others carve out their world view. Many carve out a small subset and call it their truth. The full set of nature, science or truth has no bounds; the infinite set.
    Historically people seem to be attracted to dogma, perhaps that’s a major limiting factor to enlightenment.

  2. On Malthus

    Malthus’s controversial first book (1798): “An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects The Future Improvement of Society. ”

    Inspired by Newton, he argued the RATE of human population growth would stall progress towards a more “perfectible” society because: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the Earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, if unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetic ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second”.

    For him, this Principle was a law of Nature, divinely imposed to ensure virtuous behaviour. The greatest obstacle to social progress and ‘human happiness’ was humankind’s awesome procreative power, its tendency to grow faster than the means of subsistence – or what today could be called a country’s rate of socio-economic development or ‘improvement’.

    Such heresy attracted a firestorm of abuse from many of his contemporaries – especially Enlightenment revolutionaries – and continues to this day. The French epithet ‘malthusien’ became one of the worst insults of the time. Karl Marx and his followers were unhappy with him too.

    Many still see him at best as an apologist for global social inequality and injustice. Others claim his disciples support coercive state control of population growth and reject UN Resolution XVIII that: ‘[…] couples have a basic human right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and a right to adequate education and information in this respect.’ (1968 Tehran Conference on Human Rights)

    With two centuries of hindsight, it is clear there were flaws in his Principle. Malthus did not expect science to have such a dramatic impact on agricultural productivity, health and society, or modern birth control.

    Yet in one important sense he was right. He drew attention to some factors that influence it humankind’s RATE of growth. With the prospect of a global population of at least 11 billion by 2100 – about 11 times what it was when he wrote his first Essay – perhaps time for a revaluation. For has it not become the ‘elephant in the global greenhouse’?

    1. How are we to decide what is the “right” population. How are we to decide what sort of people that population should have in it? Attenborough is right “Nature will do it for us” but that is not pejorative, that is the way things are. Nature should do it for us. Whenever human beings decide to play God and impose human design on Nature we get into trouble. Surely it is better to succeed in riding the waves than to fail in calming the ocean.

      1. Malthus did not advocate state population control or a ‘racial purity’ ideology. Marx actually called him a ‘shameless sycophant of the ruling classes’. Lenin warned “critical flirtation with Malthusianism invariably results in a descent to the most vulgar bourgeois apologetics”.

        Yet it has been socialist – eg China’s one-child policy – and fascist governments – that have taken this path. Mussolini went in the other direction. In his 1927 Ascension Day speech he wanted Italy to have at least 60 million people, as ‘it is a fact that the fate of nations is bound up with their demographic power.’

        What constitutes ‘success in riding the waves’? Is it today’s Nigeria or India? India – with just 250 million people in 1950 – will overtake China as the most populous country in just seven years with 1.4 billion. Meanwhile, Africa’s population will double in the next 35 years. By 2100, almost 40 percent of humankind will live on this one continent.

        Nigeria will overtake the US to become the world’s third largest country in just 35 years with 400 million people; more than double its current 170 million and eight times what it was in 1950.

        But as a Nigerian central banker explained last year “…the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow. If conditions are so tough today for so many, what is it going to be like when twice as many live there in 2050? Yet this isn’t a question the political elite have been asking themselves. My worry is that we are not making arrangements for this rising population. There is no country in the world that I know of over 70 million people that does not have a flourishing rail network, expanding social services and the rest of it. All those things need to be in place, together with better planning for population and for families.”

        What if the government could not improve opportunities for the many millions more who will be living there in the next few decades? Its fast-growing young population – 108 million Nigerians are currently under 25 – could become ‘deeply frustrated’. “The sort of thing that happened in the so-called Arab spring could happen in Nigeria.”

        1. I have no idea how Nigeria came to be in this situation and I have no idea what the solution may be, should there even be one. But it is not a global problem, it is a Nigerian problem and a sub-Saharan Africa problem. I think we make a great mistake thinking about such issues globally as if there must always be some global panacea that can be applied universally; that we enlightened Westerners will be able to fix everything by handing out free condoms. Nigeria has the problem and only Nigeria can fix it.

          Along with a rapidly growing population, India also has a rapidly growing economy to match. It seems likely their population growth rate will fall as they become more affluent.

          I do agree with your Arab Spring analogy. At issue is whether Nigeria goes the way of India or the way of Syria.

  3. Some more metaphysics: Nietzsche on Nature

    For him, “nature is power and, still more fundamentally, chaos.”

    He described it as “wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power” (BGE 9).

    “Let us beware”—he warned against deifying nature . As in, for example, today’s Eden or ‘Gaia’. Satanic serpent in Tree of Knowledge is homer sapiens.

    “The total character of the world…is in all eternity chaos,”

    “In the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms” (GS 109).[22]

    He also denied that there are any “laws in nature”; rather, “there are only necessities.”

    Paradoxical statements, many questions.

    Steven Michels: “How can nature’s chaos ground political and moral life? If nature is indifferent, or even hostile, to man, how can it serve as a source of order and stability? Moreover, if nature is as adverse and unpleasant as Nietzsche claims it is, why should we be willing to accept it as a guide?”

    Why, indeed?

    1. When I was a student Neitszche was anathema, largely because of what appeared to me at the time to be his naive view of physics. As I grow older (and, hopefully, wiser) he seems more and more to hit the nail on the head. Even his idea that there are no “laws in nature”; rather, “there are only necessities” which I would once have scorned, I now find quite reasonable. The overriding principle is the Second Law of Thermodynamics which can be restated as “Any system will always tend to state of maximum entropy (i.e. maximum chaos) consistent with the laws of physics as constraints”. In this view the laws of physics are not predictive about what must happen – they only tell you what cannot happen, i.e. they are “necessities”. It is about time that fluid dynamicists stopped preaching strict causality with regard to every fluid being a continuum and came into the fold of post-Planckian physics. The atomic theory tells us there can be no such thing as a fluid continuum.

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