16 May 2019
How Green Was My Voter
Taking back the argument.
By J R Thomas
Readers of the Shaw Sheet are probably not frequent visitors to seaside funfairs, but perhaps are familiar with those little machines with snake heads outside arcades. Insert pound coin. Grab the mallet, bash the protruding head. Down it goes; up comes another. Bash that, up comes another. And so on. The very sophisticated versions bring up more and more heads the faster you wield the mallet, just to prove the game is unwinnable. Put in a pound and down they all go, except for one, and off you go again.
And so it is with politics. In the 1980’s there was a revival of good old-fashioned liberalism (which we should make clear to be that version practised at its purer end as libertarianism, not the Vince Cable version). Socialism, let down by overwhelming evidence that it did little good for anyone and tended to beget authoritarianism and violence against those cursed to live under it, was in rapid retreat. A new dawn seemed to be rising on the values of liberty, choice, and civilisation.
How quickly dreams can be snuffed out. Today, a leading candidate for the US 2020 Presidential election describes himself as an independent socialist, as do several less distinguished colleagues. The British Labour Party is more left wing than it has ever been, but stands a good chance of being propelled to office in the near future, admittedly by the utter stupidity of the Tory Party rather than by any merit of its own. Things are perhaps not quite so bad in Europe – living in close proximity to East Germany or Hungary made European citizens very aware of the value of their freedoms – but there are worrying signs dressed in disguised snakes’ heads; look at the policies of France’s National Rally or Italy’s Five Star; Scotland’s Scottish National Party and Catalonia’s independence coalition (it is very odd how independence parties are so collectivist). These may not look like socialist parties, but examine their proposed or actual policies in office, and there is an awful lot about controlling the economy, bashing the rich, and increasing regulation of production and business.
But the politics of “do as we tell you” have become very subtle in recent years. Green political parties are dedicated to lots of interference and regulation, for the common good, of course. But the Green agenda is increasingly alarming for those who value self-determination. From the most minor issues to global hegemony, Green issues are on the march.
Two weeks ago English Nature abolished what were known as “general licenses” to kill vermin on rural land, as explained in these pages by my colleague Lynda Goetz. This was done without notice, consultation, initially even without explanation. Not surprisingly, large numbers of country folk are highly suspicious, seeing a stitch up by the forces of the BBC, its favourite broadcaster on country matters, Chris Packham, and leftie townies; especially as the abolition came at the worst possible time for protecting crops, small birds’ nests, and even lambs. This may or may not have been a greenist manoeuvre and may soon be reversed, but it is demonstrative of an increasingly powerful lobby which does not like land management, private land ownership, country sports, and indeed meat eating generally but acts in the name of conservation and kindliness and planet saving – even if in truth their actions achieve the opposite of such laudable ideals.
At the other end of the scale is the United Nations, who last week issued a report saying that one million species are “facing” extinction (scary, scary, scary) and furthermore, that if somebody does not do something about it, mankind will starve. Very scary. Most of those million are insects, and to put this in context, there are currently about eight million species on earth. And, even more context, species are constantly dying out or evolving into other species. Note that “facing”, before you get too worried. Will we starve? The UN argument is we might (might) because fish eat water-borne insects and if there are less insects and less fish, then we may have difficulty feeding the world’s fish-eating population. So, we must save insects so that we can eat more fish. A bit rough on the fish, but there we are.
The BBC have picked this report up in a very big way, as has the Guardian, saying with one voice that something must be done, though one cannot resist the comment in the BBC’s “Join the Conversation”: “That’s so sad”. That anonymous conversationalist is spot on; it is sad. It was sad when the dodo died, that the Northern White Rhino is about to, as are Galapagos tortoises and even Dandie Dinmont terriers. But does it matter, actually? And what can we do about it?
The second question is much easier to answer. The collectivist conservationists claim all the answers. We can ban things. We can ban certain sorts of sprays for crops so that creatures that eat the crops will not die. That means there are less crops to feed the population. We can ban diesel cars which may also affect insect breeding, though we will have to replace diesels engines with electric engines which means more lithium mining for electric batteries and more wind pylons which kill birds or more fields of solar panels which take up good agricultural land so we have less crops. And so on. You get the picture, and you may be about to hurl your mobile device into your porridge in fury at this unreconstructed high Tory criticism of worthy planet saving.
But hang on. There is certainly a problem: too many people on the planet. All the banning we may do of plastic bags and garden weedicides and farm insecticides will not give us much respite from that. The real issue is how we, without unpleasantness , reverse population growth, and get ourselves back to a long term sustainable population – perhaps a billion people or less. There are about 7.5 billion of us now; in 1950 there were about 2.5 billion. In 1900 about 1.6 billion. Within five years there will probably be another 350 million people.
We cannot avoid the consequences of there being too many of us sitting on this small rock. There appears to be nowhere else we can go, no more oceans to cross, no fertile empty(ish) lands. It is very difficult to reconcile a free and liberal society with a population that by its existence is destroying where it sits, where it feeds, where it breathes. But somehow we shall have to attempt to square that circle, if we value the civilisation we have built and the way of life we have. That means a much more subtle and a much better informed approach to how we manage the planet. And it means dealing with the elephant in the room – in a room in which there is increasingly no space for elephants – of over population.
It means that people who value a free society have to take back the agenda of greenness and conservation from the collectivist interests that have captured it; to look at the balance of food production against wildlife, of pollution against costs of production, of pigeons and crows against lambs and wheat. At the moment the collectivists have all the easy answers and they are winning; the only solace is that their answers are mostly the wrong answers and are easily demonstrated to be so. But if those who value what we had want to preserve it, they need to recapture the argument soon.