Monday, 15 March 2010

'Green authoritarianism'

I alluded early in this blog's life to the debates within the Camp for Climate Action and some potential implications for horizontal politics. One debate I didn't discuss in that post, but which is very much at the heart of the controversy, is the issue of 'green authoritarianism' - a concept that, depending on the political outlook of the person using it, spans a continuum of meanings from any state interference regarding environmental impact to a full-scale system in which liberties are severely curtailed for environmental reasons. (The specific issues being objected to by those in the CCA who adhere to the original horizontal principles are 'green' taxation of various sorts and state-enforced population control.)

Anyway, today I heard someone - a very good friend with a talent for playing devil's advocate, not that this alters what she actually said - come very close to advocating the latter end of the continuum in a question to a visiting speaker, her rationale being that this is the only way people are going to be significantly moved to change their environmental impact. Now, granted, if you are not taking an intrinsically horizontal or anarchist standpoint and your main concern is preventing environmental damage, this may seem like a tempting solution to the issues Mathew raises at Election 2010: specifically that, while people claim to desire a reduction in environmental damage, they are less keen to personally bear the costs of doing so. However, just off the top of my head, I can think of a few counter-arguments:

  • Making something government policy doesn't change people's attitudes towards it, except maybe making them resentful. Hence, people will be busy looking for polluting loopholes rather than considering whether their behaviours are unsustainable.
  • Some aspects of environmentally damaging behaviour can be policed fairly easily, but how far can this go? You can certainly monitor how much recycling a household generates compared to landfill, or their use of a car, but it is harder to keep tabs on whether people switch their lights off, unplug phone chargers and so on without severely infringing civil liberties.
  • Moratoriums on certain products are possible, but who's to say it won't just lead to a thriving black market in those products and an increase in their desirability? Yes, even toxic cleaning crap, if people still believe that the wretched stuff is the best product for the job and either don't care about or think efficacy outweighs the damage to the waterways.
  • Giving the state that much power over people's everyday lives has a destructive potential all of its own. It mandates the government to intervene in an unprecedented range of areas, which is liable to spread.
  • Who decides what is an environmentally necessary law? Can governments be trusted not to have any hidden agendas? I'd be especially concerned about population control here...

1 comment:

Adam said...

Given that the average American or European will cause more environmental damage per head than the average third world person, surely population control in the west must form part of any strategy to limit climate change damage.

As far as I am aware, only Sweden has a policy of population stability. Quite what this means in poliy terms I don't know, but it must be worth taking a look to see if any are transferable.