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 http://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/origins-of-environmentalism-1/ 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.