Anthony Giddens : Demonising Environmentalism

The further I read into Anthony Giddens’ “landmark study” on Climate Change politics, the more I want to offer it to a fuel-poor elderly neighbour :-

http://www.metro.co.uk/news/807821-pensioners-burn-books-for-warmth

“Miles Erwin – 5th January, 2010 : Pensioners burn books for warmth : Hard-up pensioners have resorted to buying books from charity shops and burning them to keep warm. Volunteers have reported that ‘a large number’ of elderly customers are snapping up hardbacks as cheap fuel for their fires and stoves…”

I have taken a fat orange highlighter pen to his more tendentious and incensing statements, and am scratching comments in the margins to indicate my extreme displeasure.

What is it about Anthony Giddens’ phraseology that so irritates me ? I’ll pass over the more nebulous, inaccurate rubbish like his mention of “political scientists” – politics is no more science than the study of fine art. And I’ll try really hard not to call him ideologically-challenged, based on his references to unproven economic theories as if they were axiomatic facts.

My key dislike to his approach seems to be crystallising around his dismissiveness of other peoples’ points of view; his loose, callous talk is likely to alienate a good many people, and he needs repudiation.

Climate Change needs a confederate, collaborative approach. It needs cross-party, cross-sector cooperation. It does not need Anthony Giddens trying to define some kind of unique niche, putting his unique ideological position, and that of his close colleagues, on the pedestal of correctness and efficacy.

Allow me to quote more from Pages 4, 5 and 6 of the Introduction to his book “The Politics of Climate Change”, my copy of which I have so far been able to resist the temptation to shred to make a cosy blanket for my compost bin worms :-


START OF QUOTATION

As for SUVs, so for the world: there is a long way to go before rhetoric becomes reality. Politicians have woken up to the scale and urgency of the problem and many countries have recently introduced ambitious climate change policies. Over the past few years, a threshold has been crossed: most political leaders are now well aware of the hazards posed by climate change and the need to respond to them. Yet this is just the first wave – the bringing of the issue onto the political agenda. The second wave must involve embedding it in our institutions and in the everyday concerns of citizens, and here, for reasons just mentioned, there is a great deal of work to do. The international community is on board, at least in principle. Negotiations aimed at limiting global warming have taken place at meetings organized by the United Nations, starting in Rio in 1992, moving on to Kyoto in 1997 and then to Bali in 2007, in an attempt to get global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. They are still continuing, but have produced little in the way of concrete results so far.

Much of this book concentrates on climate change policy in the industrial countries. It is these countries that pumped most of the emissions into the atmosphere in the first place, and they have to take prime responsibility for controlling them in the near fuure. They must take the lead in reducing emissions, moving towards a low-carbon economy and making the social reforms with which these changes will have to be integrated. If they can’t do these things, no one else will.

I want to make the somewhat startling assertion that, at present, we have no politics of climate change. In other words, we do not have a developed analysis of the political innovations that have to be made if our aspirations to limit global warming are to become real. It is a strange and indefensible absence, which I have written this book to try to repair. My approach is grounded in realism. There are many who say that coping with climate change is too difficult a problem to be dealt with within the confines of orthodox politics. Up to a point I agree with them, since quite profound changes will be required in our established ways of political thinking. Yet we have to work with the institutions that already exist and in ways that respect parliamentary democracy.

The state will be an all-important actor, since so many powers remain in its hands, whether one talks of domestic or or international policy. There is no way of forcing states to sign up to international agreements; and even if they choose to do so, implementing whatever is agreed will largely be the responsibility of each individual state. Emission trading markets can only work if the price of carbon is capped, and at a demanding level, a decision that has to be made and implemented politically. Technological advance will be vital to our chances of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but support from the state will be necessary to get it off the ground. The one major supra-national entity that exists, the European Union, is heavily dependent on decisions taken by its member nations, since its control over them is quite limited.

Markets have a much bigger role to play in mitigating climate change than simply in the area of emissions trading. There are many fields where market forces can produce results that no other agency of framework could manage. In principle, where a price can be put on an environmental good without affronting other values, it should be done, since competition will then create increased efficiency whenever that good is exchanged. However, active state intervention is once again called for. The environmental costs entailed by economic processes often form what economists call ‘externalities’ – they are not paid for by those who incur them. The aim of public policy should be to make sure that, wherever possible, such costs are internalized – that is, brought into the marketplace.

‘The state’, of course, comprises a diversity of levels, including regional, city and local government. In a global era, it operates within the context of what political scientists call multilayered governance, stretching upwards into the international arena and downwards to regions, cities and localities. To emphasize the importance of the state to climate change policy is not to argue for a reversion to top-down government. On the contrary, the most dramatic initiatives are likely to bubble up from the actions of far-sighted individuals and from the energy of civil society. States will have to work with a variety of other agencies and bodies, as well as with other countries and international organizations if they are to be effective.

One can’t discuss the politics of climate change without mentioning the green movement, which has been a leading influence on environmental politics for many years. It has had a major impact in forcing the issue of climate change onto the political agenda. ‘Going green’ has become more or less synonymous with endeavours to limit climate change. Yet there are big problems. The green movement has its origins in the hostile emotions that industrialism aroused among the early conservationists. Especially in its latter-day development in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, the greens defined themselves in opposition to orthodox politics. Neither position is especially helpful to the task of integrating environmental concerns into our established political institutions. Just what is and what is not valuable in green political philosophies has to be sorted out.

END OF QUOTATION


Anthony Giddens writes : “As for SUVs, so for the world: there is a long way to go before rhetoric becomes reality.” He fails to address one of the key problems with politics – a general inertia, a resistance to change. By constantly making reference to “public opinion”, often constructed by the Media, politics dare not tread outside the narrow trammels of expectation. As it has been, in policy, so shall it be.

He also omits to see the larger picture : that politics must move not only faster, but wider, into the strange realm of change. Voluntary targets on Carbon Emissions can never be enough. There must be Zero Tolerance on Carbon. But this cannot be completely managed from Central Government.

Anthony Giddens writes : “Yet this is just the first wave – the bringing of the issue onto the political agenda. The second wave must involve embedding it in our institutions and in the everyday concerns of citizens…” Here he is taking quite a liberty in defining what is happening, taking the credit for what is happening, and showing remarkably fascistic tendencies in asserting the need for central politics to influence the minds of the electorate. Is it the responsibility of the Central Government to impress upon all the national institutions and the peoples the necessity of policy on Climate Change ? How is democracy involved in this process ? And are not people responsible for their own approach to their growing knowledge of the onset of Global Warming ?

Anthony Giddens writes : “The international community is on board, at least in principle.” Is that “on board” with his ideas ? Is Anthony Giddens somehow in command of the ideological framework that is necessary to communicate to get movement on Climate Change ? Is Anthony Giddens setting the agenda ?

Anthony Giddens writes : “The state will be an all-important actor, since so many powers remain in its hands, whether one talks of domestic or or international policy. There is no way of forcing states to sign up to international agreements; and even if they choose to do so, implementing whatever is agreed will largely be the responsibility of each individual state.”

There is a huge element that he does not discuss here : the corporate organisations to which most governments outsource functions of trade, social utilities and Energy. Many transnational corporations are global companies of such size they dwarf the economies of individual governments.

In a sense, it does not really matter if the nations sign up to a treaty on Climate Change. Without the cooperation of the corporations, a Climate Change treaty ain’t going nowhere, fast.

The question of how individual nation states can implement Climate Change depends to a huge extent on how they can break the tourniquet of “business interests” that dictate or lead many national policies on trade, manufacture and infrastructural provision.

Many corporates have viewed signing up to Climate Change control as signing their own death warrants. And it’s the corporates that will be relied upon to implement nations’ Climate Change policies.

Anthony Giddens write : “Emission trading markets can only work if the price of carbon is capped, and at a demanding level…” Er, no. The amount of Carbon needs to be capped, not the price. There are always going to be forces that operate to keep the price of Carbon low. In fact the theory of the “efficiency” of markets leads to this potential outcome – that Carbon will be priced according to the needs of the international business community. The amount of Carbon available as permits or national allowances needs to be capped and ratcheted downwards, year on year, in order to stimulate Carbon reductions. If a “floor price” on Carbon is deliberated, it will guarantee large sums of money are made available to expensive technological approaches to Carbon Emissions reductions, such as Nuclear Power and Carbon Capture and Storage. However, that would mitigate against cheaper or near-zero-cost options, as all the funds would be sucked out of the economy to pay for the expensive stuff.

Anthony Giddens writes : “Technological advance will be vital to our chances of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but support from the state will be necessary to get it off the ground.” Here he buys into several myths at once. He seems to be assuming that technology can continue to advance at the same pace as it has in the past. Many technologies have reached their zenith. Some recent proposals investigated violate the Laws of Physics or use more Fossil Fuel Energy than in the past. For example, some forms of BioDiesel, trumpeted only a few short years ago as the ultimate vehicle fuel solution, have turned out to have shortcomings in several of its incarnations.

Plus, throwing more money into Research and Development will not necessarily guarantee the same kinds of returns on investment in future. The reason ? Most technological advances deployed to markets cause higher Energy consumption.

In addition, we don’t need yet more Research and Development, effectively delaying concrete action. Most, perhaps all, of the technologies we need to solve Climate Change are already tried and tested.

Any new Energy infrastructure requires massive investment. If the current corporate network feels they cannot do this kind of investment, because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of their shareholders, then states around the world will have to stump up taxpayer cash for the Energy Revival. In this case, the nation states should retain the profit from these investments. The states should own the new technologies and plant and pipeline and wire grids.

Anthony Giddens states the Classical Economist’s golden rule : “In principle, where a price can be put on an environmental good without affronting other values, it should be done, since competition will then create increased efficiency whenever that good is exchanged.” But Carbon is an environmental “bad”, not “good”. Nobody wants Carbon Emissions to be on their books, but they are stuck with Carbon Assets. And as always, Carbon Emissions will be hidden in trade, as nobody wants to buy it. People will resist accounting for Carbon Emissions in all forms of exchange. They call this “Carbon Leakage”.

And here is my big question : how is putting a price on Carbon Emissions going to stop them ? Carbon Emissions are one of the foundations of the global Economy. Taxing Carbon is like a universal tax on everything.

Anthony Giddens writes : “The aim of public policy should be to make sure that, wherever possible, such costs are internalized – that is, brought into the marketplace.” No, not “internalized” – Carbon Emissions externalities should be eliminated, not costed. This is where the notion of environmental taxation really falls down in a heap. The aim of public policy should be to eliminate Carbon Emissions, not charge people for them.

Anthony Giddens writes : “To emphasize the importance of the state to climate change policy is not to argue for a reversion to top-down government. On the contrary, the most dramatic initiatives are likely to bubble up from the actions of far-sighted individuals and from the energy of civil society.” But these “far-sighted individuals” don’t have any influence beyond “civil society”, and even there, they don’t have much influence. It’s patronising to ask people to Keep Calm and Carry On Campaigning and lobbying and marching and writing letters and Climate Camping when experience shows that policy is unaffected by these actions.

Anthony Giddens carries on patronisingly, “One can’t discuss the politics of climate change without mentioning the green movement, which has been a leading influence on environmental politics for many years. It has had a major impact in forcing the issue of climate change onto the political agenda.” He omits to alight on a huge ideological problem : that the political agenda effectively ignores the green movement.

Anthony Giddens then gets my goat : “The green movement has its origins in the hostile emotions that industrialism aroused among the early conservationists. Especially in its latter-day development in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, the greens defined themselves in opposition to orthodox politics. Neither position is especially helpful to the task of integrating environmental concerns into our established political institutions. Just what is and what is not valuable in green political philosophies has to be sorted out.”

It is at this point that I throw the book on the floor, uttering choice words of dubious meaning. I do then have to apologise to the people around me, as I pick up the book.

What was it that so disgusted me ?

The key to any democratic evolution is debate – it is people taking up a position and opposing others who have another position. Opposition is the heart of politics. Being in opposition to the “ruling” party, or the prevailing dogma is not wrong; it’s not “hostile”.

I’d hate to have a conversation with Anthony Giddens over dinner. If I took up a position that was different to his, he’d call me “hostile”.

This is where Anthony Giddens has “demonised the opposition” and loses all shreds of intelligent analysis.

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