Origins of Environmentalism (2)

The notion of eco-fascism is doing the rounds again, being brought up (surprisingly) by the normally mild-mannered Andrew Montford at

Pointman (who I confess I don’t read as often or as closely as I should) is good on the subject, e.g. at

I once wrote an article accusing Paul Ehrlich of being a fascist and thought better of it. But the subject won’t go away. At I examined the origins of a rather obscure tool of green-minded social scientists called the New Ecological Paradigm, which established back in the seventies, and  confirmed in the nineties, that most people (round about eighty to ninety percent) will assent to propositions like “Humans are severely abusing the environment”, “Humans are still subject to the laws of nature” or “The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset”.

(Note: I’m not disputing the findings of these surveys. If that’s what people say, then we have to assume that’s what they “believe” – though I‘d like to see some serious discussion among social scientists about exactly how they distinguish “belief”, “opinion”, “attitude” and “feeling”.  Whatever – these are “social facts”, and therefore important in themselves, at least to those of us who are willing to entertain the idea of social science as a serious study.)

What’s slightly weird is the way these social facts came into existence. They emanate from a scientific paper written by Dunlap and Van Leire in 1978, reporting the results of an opinion survey carried out in 1976 which was based on the ideas in  “Ark II”, a book written in 1974 by Denis Pirages and Paul Ehrlich, which suggests that a “new environmental paradigm” must one day replace the “dominant social paradigm” then in place.

The survey demonstrated clearly that  the supposed dominant social paradigm was already rejected by a majority of the population, who expressed by large majorities  their concern about the”severe abuse” of the environment, and about the “balance of nature being upset” on our “fragile planet”. How can that be? Did some vast cultural revolution take place in the space of a couple of years, without anyone noticing?

Of course it didn’t. Dunlap and Van Leire plucked some ideas out of the air of the times and stuck them in an opinion survey, which is the modern equivalent of tablets of stone. If  80% of the population believe the survey that says that 80% of the population believe that the planet is fragile, then you have a truth which journalists, academics and politicians had better take note of. This is how things become established nowadays as the Consensus View, (or religion, as it used to be called).

I’ve been reading Ark II and it’s really a fantastic book in more ways than one. Of course, any  book of prophesy is bound to seem funny  forty years on, but Pirages and Ehrlich take being wrong to new heights. Leaving aside Ehrlich’s well-known prophesies about population growth and resource depletion leading to the collapse of civilisation, consider these two statements about climate. From Chapter 1:

The possibility that mankind will soon become an important climatic force over large areas (coastlines, river basins, megalopolises) cannot be dismissed lightly. According to one recent estimate [...] the dissipation of heat caused by human activities will be equal to 50 percent of the sun’s energy arriving at the surface in that area in winter and 15 percent of solar energy in summer [...] The understanding that scientists have of the detailed operation of the climatic system is as yet inadequate to predict the exact consequences of such human impact, but the onset of instabilities seems a distinct possibility [...] Large-scale thermal pollution is, in principle and in the long term, less manageable than any other global environmental problem [...]  A rough heat balance calculation by physicist John Holdren suggests a corresponding mean global temperature increase of approximately 13° Fahrenheit. [...]  it is fair to say that the associated climatological and ecological disruption would be enormous.

That’s John Holdren, Obama’s special climate advisor, who was forecasting a 7°C temperature rise due to urban heat island effects. No mention of greenhouse gases.

…and from the Epilogue:

The  relatively good weather of the last few decades, which played a large part in  increasing food production, may well have been an aberration, and a return  to more normal conditions in the late seventies may extinguish a significant  part of the badly overextended world population. According to meteorologist Reid Bryson, the climatic conditions that existed between 1930 and  1960 were the most unusual of the last 1,000 years. He speculates that the  planet may be returning to climatic conditions more typical of recent centuries-conditions quite different from those to which modern high-yield  agricultural systems are attuned.

According to Wikipaedia, Reid Bryson’s main contribution to the debate on climate change was the idea of “the human volcano” causing global cooling. Pirages and Ehrlich have rather neatly anticipated the current fashion for “climate chaos” or “global weirding” by simultaneously forecasting both warming and cooling, without any mention of CO2 or the greenhouse effect.

But the real interesting part is their Chapter Two on what is to be done. After sketching vaguely their idea of a Dominant Social Paradigm (which seems to mean all that is crass and materialistic about modern western society, including the idea that economic growth is good) they start wondering how to go about overthrowing it and replace it with the New Environmental Paradigm.

This book has changed my opionions in at least one way. I feel more sympathy for the Watermelon theory, as put forward so insistently by (mostly American) conservatives. This was the USA post-Watergate and post- the Vietnam war. Radical ideas were in the air, and it was no doubt not unusual for academics to express themselves like members of some loony leftwing sect. All the same, talk about the need to train cadres is rather chilling. Here is a much abridged extract:

It must be understood that deliberately changing fundamental assumptions and attitudes inherent in the industrial DSP [Dominant Social Paradigm] means nothing less than designing a new culture. This would represent a revolutionary step that has rarely been attempted, although it would be akin to the cultural revolution that has recently shaken China. Designing a new culture means adopting an activist attitude toward cultural evolution rather than passive acquiescence to the results of technology; but most important of all, it means actively intervening to modify norms, values, and institutions to bring them into line with the physical and biological constraints within which mankind must operate. The entire world society must soon reach a consensus on what is meant by a livable world and must cooperate in using science, technology, and social institutions to construct that world, rather than forcing human beings to conform to a world shaped by these forces out of control. 

To direct cultural evolution is to make culture an effective weapon in the battle for human survival. In the past, culture has represented the accumulated wisdom of the ages; cultural change tends to follow events, rather than helping to shape them. Today much of the old wisdom is no longer relevant to the survival of a society faced with changes of unprecedented speed and magnitude. Cultural evolution should be so directed that societies can anticipate and effectively deal with problems or, better yet, avoid them altogether. This will require the rational development of a social technology to meet mankind’s psychosocial needs that is as effective as the material technology that was developed within industrial culture to meet mankind’s physical needs.

Today there are no obvious economic incentives to encourage acceptance of a new DSP. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Nevertheless, the inadequacy of the present paradigm to cope with new, simultaneously developing problems is becoming increasingly evident to people who are prepared to recognize it. But time is too short to await the evolution of an alternative viable paradigm. The main problem for industrial society in the last quarter of the twentieth century will be to design new and feasible alternatives and to move toward the best of them. Mankind must begin to turn this new awareness of planetary danger into meaningful social action. 

Leaders of industrial societies, those who might be able to guide the evolution of culture, tend not to be “protean men” who understand the implications of change. It seems as if politicians often represent society’s lowest common denominators, a sort of perverse selection of the morally least fit. 

[...] large-scale labor disputes not only illustrate the power that small segments of the population can exercise over the welfare of countless others; they also dramatize the paradox that exists in a complex interdependent society living by social rules developed under frontier conditions. Industrial society is now so interdependent that any dedicated group can throw a wrench into the delicate social machinery. Simultaneously, accepted social values encourage intense competition, social conflict, and labor strife, rather than a spirit of cooperation, responsibility, and concern for the welfare of others [...]

The task before us, then, is one of accelerating this movement toward a new DSP to replace the one that has been shaped by the industrial revolution and that is now leading inexorably toward the destruction of industrial society. Industrial mankind must remake its culture and direct future cultural evolution. A rationally controlled technology does give us a means of survival for ourselves and many generations to come, although it must be supplemented by a social technology that encourages people to value and reward ecologically sound behavior. Mankind must respond to survival imperatives with meaningful social action. Culture must again become an ally, rather than an enemy, in the battle for survival. 

The transformation of a society like that of the United States implies the need for a massive educational effort toward a goal unique in history – the planned evolution of a new culture. But people must first be convinced of the necessity for change. It is extremely difficult to make meaningful the remote consequences of today’s behavior. How, then, can the United States be hurried down the road to a new DSP?

Implicit in the approach discussed here is a belief that social change can take place both by working within the system and by continually pointing to the need for massive long-term structural transformations. Long-range solutions will require a revolution at least as significant as the dramatic shift that seems to have occurred in China in the past quarter-century. While working toward such drastic transformations, dedicated people should not lose sight of the many opportunities for changing things through progressive legislation. To attain long-term goals, however, means cultivating large numbers of well-informed, nonviolent revolutionaries. These people must use all available peaceful strategies to deflect industrial society from its suicidal course. 

 If mankind is fortunate over the next few years, those concerned with the future will be able to construct a revolutionary vision of a new world and to outline the ways in which society might make a transition to it. If those now entranced with simplistic and badly outdated visions of revolutionary confrontation can be persuaded to shift their sights, perhaps a substantial cadre of active and rational nonviolent revolutionaries can be assembled.

But even if a dedicated group can be assembled, a successful paradigm shift will ultimately depend on the actions of the majority in a democratic society. If each person fails to see and feel the long-term consequences of what he or she is doing, all will be lost. In the end, each person must be made to feel responsible for the present and future welfare of all mankind.

I’ve omitted some references to the outside world (The Soviet Union, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Vietnam) which demonstrate just how wrong and blinkered American academics (of left or right) can be. The two references to China might suggest that our authors are closet Maoists. Their attitude to labour disputes might suggest a different political orientation. The excerpt ends with the acceptance of the need in a democratic society to persuade the majority (though the notion of persuasion rather changes its meaning, it seems to me, when accompanied by the manace that the world will end if you don’t agree).

There’s more to be done on this, but  there does seem to be enough here to demonstrate that the concept of eco-fascism is something which merits serious discussion.

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7 Responses to Origins of Environmentalism (2)

  1. TinyCO2 says:

    I’m not sure I understand the differences between fascists and any other group that seeks to make everyone else conform to their idea of a good society. It always ends up with a largely self appointed elite, lording it over the plebs/serfs/comrades. I suppose the main difference between fascists and the communists was that the latter expected you to want to put the manacles on yourself, whereas the fascists just went straight to force.

    For the elite, their utopia is remarkably similar. It involves cramming the hoi polloi into as small a space as possible and leaving the rest of the land to be exploited and enjoyed by the favoured few. When people talk about the global problems of diminishing resources they really mean ‘I’m worried there won’t be enough for me and mine’.

    The likes of Ehrlich and Russell Brand call piteously for the under classes to rise up in revolution to protect the planet and are dismayed to find instead the ungrateful masses embracing consumerism and capitalism with the same enthusiasm as a moustachioed mill owner in a black cape. It turns out the common man likes having luxuries and land just as much as the elite.

    In the past the public could be forced to conform to the ideal the elite had selected. With communism, on the promise of a utopia, the public were conned into exchanging one totalitarian system for another. How will our modern overlords attempt to fashion their vision? Can we truly be forced or conned any more?

  2. Mooloo says:

    suppose the main difference between fascists and the communists was that the latter expected you to want to put the manacles on yourself, whereas the fascists just went straight to force.

    The main difference between far left and far right is based on concepts around man’s perfectability.

    The far left believe, in essence, that all people are created equal, and that it is society that makes them bad. Therefore if you perfect society you will get perfect people. The far right believe some people are born better than others, and you need to purify society of the scum.

    The Left believe in a perfectly just society. The Right in a perfectly ordered society.

    This has natural flow-on effects. Communists are internationalists, whereas basically all Fascism in local (usually very National/Ethnic in practice). Communists believe in the equality of the sexes, whereas Fascism wants to put the woman in the home. The Left believe in advance, the Right in retreat to “traditional values”.

    It is possible to espouse one and practice the other (Stalin introduced a national/racist ethic to the USSR, persecuted the minorities and basically abandoned internationalism) but they are chalk and cheese. That they share similar methods and language doesn’t mean they are even remotely similar in end goals.

    Environmentalists are naturally of the Left — we can all be persuaded to become better people and live in harmony with nature. Many conservationists more to the right — we need laws to keep people in line and revere a return to the “good old days”. Environmentalists are profoundly internationalist, whereas conservationists worry only about their own patch.

    There are some “eco-fascists”. But they are a tiny minority who would happily kill most humans in order to depopulate the planet. They believe utterly that “Nature” is more important than anything else.

    A key difference is this: a person of the Eco-Far-Left worries about what will happen to people if the planet rises by 5°C. A person of the Eco-Far-Right worries about what will happen to the planet, and is not concerned about the people.

  3. TinyCO2
    Your last paragraph raises some interesting questions: “How will our modern overlords attempt to fashion their vision?” “Can we truly be forced or conned any more?”
    Environmentalism is your answer. Yes, we can be conned, if our modern overlords can involve the few members of the élite who are still trusted by voters (scientists, NGOs). And they will attempt to fashion their vision in a way which satisfies the need for big business (including Big Oil) to continue its oligarchic control of markets while at the same time satisfying the voting public’s distrust of the same big business by embracing a belief system (environmentalism, organic foods, fair trade, whatever) which claims to be anti-big business. This is another interesting parallel with National Socialism.

  4. Thanks Mooloo
    Your response to TinyCO2 says practically everything I’d want to say that wasn’t already said by George Orwell in Animal Farm. Mussolini was imprisoned for his socialist activities, and Nazism is National Socialism. Fascism (of the Italian and German varieties, but not the Spanish or Portuguese) was essentially a deformation of socialism / commmunism.
    The other distinction is that, while communism, anarchism, trade unionism, and democratic socialism, were authentic grassroots social movements, Nazism was essentially imposed from above by the rich and powerful who sought their personal advantage in supporting a fringe movement.

  5. TinyCO2 says:

    Geoff “Yes, we can be conned, if our modern overlords can involve the few members of the élite who are still trusted by voters (scientists, NGOs).” And I think they believe that too but the evidence is against it. The public are very easy to con into doing something they want to do but it’s very hard to stir them into doing stuff they don’t. For a few years a government can fool the public that windmills are necessary but when they realise that the ‘free’ wind has to be paid for they back away. The public doesn’t have to actively reject climate science to kill climate policy.

  6. David Ross says:

    I agree Geoff National Socialism is a branch of Socialism. The core common belief is that individuality and personal freedom is subservient to the “needs” of society as a whole, i.e. the state. Unite the people against a common enemy; the Jews, the bankers, the 1%. The “needs”, of course, are defined by an elite. The people don’t have a say.

    Stalin forbade the Berlin communists from contesting with the Nazis because he saw the Social Democrats as the enemy. And, of course, he allied with Hitler to carve up Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. Socialists claim to be the antithesis of racists. But the geriatrics that reviewed the troops traipsing through Red Square each year were a pasty faced bunch. Not much diversity there. And not much ethnic diversity or tolerance in Russia now.

    I view Soviet Socialist Russia fighting National Socialist Germany as much the same as Communist China fighting Communist Vietnam (the other Vietnam War); Stalinists fighting Trotskyists or Black shirts turning on Brown shirts.

    The basic split is not “left” and “right” with Nazis somehow classified as “far right”. Capitalism is a word promoted by its enemies. The most striking feature of the “right” is the absence of dogma. The true divide is between free markets, free people, free speech, free ideas vs. control and imposed conformity by an arrogant elite.

    Come to think of it “Green Shirts” is quite an apt label for some of today’s groups.

    P.S. I would caution against seeking one overarching ideology amongst those who promote global warming. It is also important to distinguish between those groups with an agenda and the vast majority whose alarmism is not ideologically driven. As always happens with propaganda, people start to believe in their own, and soon cannot recognize the propaganda of others of their ilk for what it is. Positive feedback. It feels good to (believe to) be right and amongst those who (you believe) are right.

    There are several groups creating a perfect storm Malthusians, Deep Greens, Old Left (internationalists), New Left (Critical Theory, deconstructivist).

  7. Mooloo says:

    And not much ethnic diversity or tolerance in Russia now.

    As a statement of fact this is wrong. Russia is as ethnically diverse as any country in Europe. It shows you know very little about Russia now, or in the past.

    The thing is that people notice the small number of ones who won’t buy in. The Chechens aren’t a problem to the Russians because of their racial difference, or their religion. There are millions of Muslims who fit into Russia just fine (3 million Volga Tartars, for example). The difference is that the Chechens don’t want to fit in, whereas the Tartars do.

    Russia has always accepted difference of race, provided that the people involved don’t make a fuss about it. There were Moslem princes in the Tsarist nobility, for example. The Chechens and Dagestanis don’t want in, and never have, from Tsarist times on.

    I’m not saying the Russians are perfect about race. But I don’t believe anyone from the US or the UK can point a finger, based on their attitude to their immigrants. I could argue that the UK must be biased against Catholics, on the basis of the IRA using the same “logic”.

    The most striking feature of the “right” is the absence of dogma.

    What a load of bollocks. This is the Green argument you dislike so much, i.e. “we don’t have any dogma on climate — only the nasty other side does!”

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