Steel, Gas and Watermelons

I don’t buy the Watermelon theory that Greens are just closet Reds, and that environmentalism is some secret plot to impose soviet-style socialism on the world. It’s a Heath Robinson kind of idea, at once oversimplified and too complicated to explain anything. Right wing libertarians of the Delingpole school are naturally  suspicious of social science, confusing it with socialism, and hence end up having no idea how society works. (The summit of ignorance was of course attained by Maggie Thatcher with her famous remark about there being no such thing as society).

Another thing I don’t do is comment on French politics, though I live there and even vote there. That’s going to change, as ecology and the economy are about to move centre stage here in an almighty clash of the kind which brings down governments.

It’s a complicated story, so please be patient.

The Greens have a dozen seats in parliament and a couple of junior ministers in the government – a gift from the socialist President for having delivered their 3% vote to him in the second round of the recent presidential election. They’re already at odds with the government of which they’re members, the treehuggers having stopped the building of an airport in the Prime Minister’s own constituency by camping on site, which provoked the kind of violent confrontations between peasants and the militarised national police force which is often fatal to a left-wing government.

The same demonstrators will undoubtedly stop any shale gas exploration, particularly as, by a nice irony, French shale gas is located under the Larzac plateau, scene of huge demonstrations back in the eighties against nuclear weapons, a conflict which ended with President Mitterand handing the military land over to co-operatives of sheep farmers. The French naturally side with demonstrators against the authorities. A clash between peasants protecting the environment and gas prospectors (possibly American) would be  a nightmare for any French government.

A post today at Bishop Hill

led me, via the twitters of Nick Grealy to a most interesting article at

Shale gas and steel production are locked in a virtuous circle which is behind the current revival of US industry. Cheap gas makes US steel production competitive, and gas production uses enormous amounts of steel tubing.

Here in France, shale gas and steel are two of the headline stories which risk bringing the socialist government into conflict with the far left, which includes the Greens and the Left Front, whose leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon describes himself as an “eco-socialist” and who collected a respectable 11% of the votes in the recent presidential election. He was opposed to the government’s plans for the now mothballed airport, is opposed to all shale gas exploration and is championing the Lorraine steelworkers who have been locked in a bitter dispute with Arcelor Mittal over the planned closure of two foundries.

The government intervened, with the industry ministry famously declaring that Indian millionaire Lakshmi Mittal was not welcome in France, and promising to nationalise the site. The dispute was finally settled without either closure or nationalisation, but the Lorraine steelworkers, supported by the far left, claim they’ve been betrayed by the government. And the future of the site is dependent on European Union funding for a massive 600 million euro scheme to test out carbon capture on the site, a scheme which, if it works, might possibly deliver a less “polluting” steel industry in fifteen to twenty years time, and one which, it is claimed, will be competitive because of being less heavily taxed via Carbon Credits.

Meanwhile, in the NoHotAir  article linked above, it is reported that at a recent World Shale Fair in Poland, the only  European steel company present was a French one, which has just opened a new steelworks – in Ohio.

The French leftwing government wants desperately to protect French industry, but is absolutely incapable of delivering the cheap gas which would make it possible. Allowing frakking would provoke a civil war on the left. Public opinion tends to support protesters far more readily in France than in other countries. A combination of anti-frakking peasants and anti-foreign-ownership steelworkers would have unanimous support across the political spectrum. The Greens and eco-socialists will be seen as heroes, even as they destroy the French economy. Heavy industry will go where the cheap gas is, first to Poland, maybe even to Britain.

This has the makings of a real catastrophe. Just what the EU needs as it enters a triple dip recession.

And all because of climate change.

About Geoff Chambers

Retired illustrator (children's magazines, religious education textbooks, an Encyclopaedia of Christianity, gay contact and female fitness magazines, pornographic strip cartoons etc.) Retired lecturer in English and History of Art in a French University; ardent blogger on climate hysteria, banned five times from the Guardian and twice from the Conversation. Now blogging at
This entry was posted in France Italy & the rest, Sociology of Climate Change and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Steel, Gas and Watermelons

  1. SunGCR says:

    UN Agenda 21 seems to be about crashing industrialised developed nations, because apparently we’re not ‘sustainable’. It is ‘working’ so far, in lockstep with the withdrawal of easy credit due to the banking crash.

  2. SunGCR says:

    For people interested in UN Agenda 21, this video shows some details and who is behind its setup:

    The video is ropey but the audio is fine.

  3. dearieme says:

    “The summit of ignorance was of course attained by Maggie Thatcher with her famous remark about there being no such thing as society”: on the contrary, her remarks were perfectly reasonable. I assume you must be unfamiliar with them.

  4. SunGCR says:

    Please elaborate.

  5. DaveB says:

    Fascinating piece – many thanks. However, I’d contest that Thatcher’s notorious “there is no such thing as society” quip was the summit of her ignorance.

    No, it was an elegant expression of the notion that society can be run as series of corner shops and market stalls contracting the common weal out to self-employed plumbers. It can’t, of course, and we’re still paying the price for her folly but I thought she put it well. She was, as I’m sure you know, talking with “Woman’s Own” in 1987.

    I’d argue that the summit of her ignorace came a little later with her enthusiastic promotion of the “climate change” agenda in a series of speeches at the UN, her vociferous support for the IPCC, her founding of The Hadley Centre and the promotion of folk with very odd ideas indeed, such as the misanthropic Sir Crispin Tickell and the bible-thumping Sir John Houghton, into positions of influence.

    The Left, on the other hand, scales its summit of ignorance when it denies this history (assuming of course that it ever knew it) because it sees the AGW agenda as rightfully its own and prefers to downplay Thatcher’s role in case it gets tainted with her apocalyptic vision.

    For obvious reasons, her admirers are happy to do the same. “Denialists, the lot of ’em” I say, “Bring out the tumbrils”.

    Oops – I see that that tumbril joke is not new in our context though it does neatly bring us back to where you came in with James Delingpole. He may well be (is) muddled as hell on politics and the social sciences both but anyone who can tag an article with “Al Gore roasting on an open fire, Ed Miliband with a red hot poker up his jacksie, etc” can’t be all bad.

  6. zbcustom says:

    There seems to be a fair bit of muddled thinking in this piece and the comments. Geoff opens with a position statement that

    I don’t buy the Watermelon theory that Greens are just closet Reds

    but later refers to

    … the far left, which includes the Greens and the Left Front….


    The Greens and eco-socialists ….

    Now I may be missing something here but I can’t see how these statements can be reconciled.
    Dave’s assertion that Delingpole is muddled is ironic in this context. In my view Delingpole argues a quite consistent and defensible world view. And of course, anyone still using the words ‘social’ and ‘science’ together is axiomatically as muddled as the so called social scientists themselves. Lewandowsky comes to mind.

  7. zbcustom
    There’s no contradiction. Not all greens are red, and not all reds are green, as Delingpole acknowledges at the beginning of “Watermelons” when he praises socialist sceptics Graham Stringer MP, Steve McIntyre, and Philip Stott.
    In France, the electorally weak Greens are in alliance with the (pink) socialist government. The Reds (the far left, including communists) being electorally stronger, have stayed out of government . Their leader, the rebel socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, chooses to call himself an eco-socialist in order to give the fading star of far left politics a modern shine. He is the mirror image of David Cameron – a brilliant, well-educated politician adopting a nonsensical, politically suicidal belief for reasons of political image. The fact that such highy intelligent politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum can make the same error needs explaining. And for that, the social sciences are your only man.
    Delingpole’s analysis can only explain this apparent contradiction by defining Cameron as a Red. A serious analysis would require something more sophisticated.
    Certainly, Delingpole’s world view is consistent and defensible. It’s the view of the Tory far right. They’ve dropped their obsession with queers and niggers to concentrate their hatred on the smelly idle working class. Delingpole is a great writer and possibly a lovely person, but see his recent recommendation of the utterly unfunny Kevin Marx column at for his position on social issues.

  8. DaveB
    Agreed, Maggie Thatcher expressed very elegantly “the notion that society can be run as series of corner shops”, and, as zbcustom says of Delingpole, it’s a consistent and defensible position.
    I remember (and Delingpole doesn’t, because he was fourteen at the time) Maggie’s heroic efforts to abolish the working classes and turn us into a nation of whizzy bankers (no spoonerisms please).
    I had this fantasy of Maggie as a student helping her dad in his grocer’s shop during the long vacation. She’d noted that the best selling line was the baked beans, so she cut out the unpopular pineapple chunks and mulligatawny soup, leaving more shelf space for the most popular product, and enabling her to undercut her rivals due to bulk buying. Pretty soon, customers were flocking in to stock up on the cheapest baked beans in Lincolnshire, and she had to cut out the semolina, treacle, sugar and soap to make room for the ever popular baked beans.
    For a while, she was the toast of the retail trade. Then one day, customers stopped coming. No-one quite understood why. Her economic logic was impeccable. But even people who didn’t like semolina and pineapple chunks had a kind of unconscious feeling stirring somewhere inside them that there must be more to life than cheap baked beans.

  9. Dodgy Geezer says:

    “…I don’t buy the Watermelon theory that Greens are just closet Reds, and that environmentalism is some secret plot to impose soviet-style socialism on the world…”

    I don’t think that this means that Greens spend their evenings discussing marxist dialectic. What it means is that Greens, in common with socialist activists, believe in operating a society where all activity is directed from the centre by a group of specialists, for the presumed good of all. This is, if you think about it, a common feature in most activist doctrine….

    Maggie’s ‘There is no such thing as society..’ was a comment specifically intended to address this viewpoint. You will recall that she followed it with the assertion that ‘There are only individual men and women, and families..’. What she was saying was that politicians should not (or at least that she did not intend to) operate as if the world was comprised of amorphous groups, who could be interacted with or controlled on the basis of some social theory. That she saw people as struggling to do the best that they could for themselves and their families, rather than as supporting a social concept like ‘the working class’, or ‘the landowners’. She herself says:

    ..“they never quoted the rest. I went on to say: There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour. My meaning, clear at the time but subsequently distorted beyond recognition, was that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations.“..

    Such “natural” structures are often denigrated by left-of-centre intellectuals who believe that humankind can achieve a more rational order by design – their design….

  10. Dodgy Geezer
    Both Greens and Reds, like conservatives, have libertarian and authoritarian wings. There’s nothing controversial about this. Libertarian conservatives will naturally concentrate their fire on authoritarian socialists, seeing all lefties as fans of the Soviet state. Similarly, libertarian socialists will accuse all conservatives of serving big business, Big Oil, etc.
    A further complication is added by the fact that anyone entering the system will naturally want to enhance the power of whatever structure he serves. So we see left libertarians starting of as the enemies of the establishment and ending up pillars of the UN bureaucracy, and rightwing libertarians like Delingpole extolling the Army.
    It’s complicated, but not impossibly so.
    Maggie’s meaning was perfectly clear, and she didn’t need to apologise for it. It epitomises something very profound in the English character, and which possibly explains her popularity.
    Anthropologists who study family structure have known for a long time that the English are almost unique in the Western world (though there are some North American Indian tribes and natives of Siberia who share this characteristic) of having extremely loose family ties. We chuck our kids out at an early age to fend for themselves. It accounts for football hooligans and binge drinking in Ibiza, but it also produced Captain Cook, Dick Wittington, and Maggie Thatcher.
    Our social science begins with Mayhew’s highly individual descriptions of the London poor and Mill on Liberty. German social science begins with Hegel and Marx. It’s all handy for understanding the complex world we live in.

  11. alexjc38 says:

    I heard about that flashpoint you mention of Green/Socialist conflict brewing in Nantes, where the new Aeroport du Grand Ouest has now got the go-ahead, having listened to a rather one-sided item about it on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme a couple of weeks ago (which is on my long list of things to transcribe). Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault supports it, but the Greens – in coalition with him – emphatically don’t.

    Re statism, Agenda 21, etc., when I was a teenager I was all for world government. It was a great idea, a no-brainer really and completely logical. I couldn’t understand why anyone would oppose it. World government would be like the ideal parent, making sure none of the kids were bullied or treated unfairly. No more threats of war or nuclear annihilation (I am of that generation); the world would be like a productive household, all under one peaceful roof. Resources would be rationally directed to wherever they were needed, food surpluses would flow to the hungry, provinces (former nation-states) would co-operate to husband fish stocks and forests. It was a lovely vision, when I was about 15, but has since somehow lost its appeal.

  12. DaveB says:

    “Dave’s assertion that Delingpole is muddled is ironic in this context. In my view Delingpole argues a quite consistent and defensible world view.”

    In fairness to the man, I’m not sure that Delingpole would want to be regarded for consistency. He’s an at-times amusing satirist with a good line in polemic but no philosopher. Almost every world view is defensible but many (most?) are also impervious to reason and logic.

    Once you take Tim Yeo, enough knights in the renewables sector to mount a cavalry charge and enough Peers of the Realm lining their pockets with windmills to fill the Pall Mall clubs and label them all as “Reds”, words are at risk of losing their meaning. It is time to take stock.

    But my key point wasn’t to do with Delingpole, a bitplayer if ever there was one. It was that the AGW hypothesis received its much-needed initial impetus from Margaret Thatcher’s intervention on the national and international stage, not from any “Watermelons”. Whatever it may appear to have become later, it was an initiative of the political right. The history of the IPCC is not hard to discover.

    The history of the environmental movement is also instructive. Early advocates ranged from utopian socialists to forces of the very far right indeed, from dedicated and serious campaigners in the middle of the last century to far-right nutjobs like (Sir) James Goldsmith, Zac’s dad. It does not lend itself to trite catch phrases.

    Without some understanding of the history of the social phenomenon that developed as a result of the propagation of the AGW hypothesis, we are reduced, as is Delingpole, to name calling. That why I say he’s muddled: some may find his Watermelon Theory reassuring but it does not accord with the facts.

    I’d argue that the notion of AGW developed surprisingly rapidly from a marginalised scientific niche relying on questionble data into the ideology of sections of the Western political right seeking to expresses rage and impotence at the West’s post-industrial decline. It was a rationale for putting the globalisation genie back in the bottle. Fat chance.

    Meanwhile, the western middle classes, those who used to administer industry, empire and army, now find themselves increasingly without a future, again due to the decline of the West’s industrial might. For them, the misanthropic world view implied by the AGW hypothesis begins to seem attractive, especially if it gets you a job in a burgeoing eco-bureaucracy or awfully damn rich installing useless generation technologies.

    Just some thoughts.

  13. DaveB
    I agree entirely with the main thrust of your argument. Labelling Greens as closet reds is confusing and unhelpful. The main beneficiaries of environmentalism are clearly of the Right, landowners, rentiers, and financiers who are more adept at milking government subsidies than at furthering economic or social progress. On the other hand, the ground troops are often of the Left – the far left even. And most of the prime movers of the Green agenda in the media and the different bureacracies would no doubt see themselves as being “of the left”, even though they’d probably identify their position as being midway between that of the treehugging hippies and the windfarm profiteers.
    Delingpole knows this: I suspect the “Watermelons” titl has more to do with selling copies of his book in the US to Tea Party sympathisers than anything else. But I wouldn’t describe him as a bitplayer. The only card scepticism has to play is growing public awareness, spurred on by rising fuel bills and suspicion of Green activists and dodgy science. Delingpole has the ability to popularise scepticism. I don’t agree with his politics, but I admire him for that, and for the generous way he acknowledges his debts to more serious contributors like McIntyre, Montford and Booker.
    Your last two paragraphs contain the germ of a sociological theory of the origins of the rise of environmentalism which is precisely the kind of thing I want to see developing. Instead of (or, better, alongside) the analysis of the motivations of individuals, one needs to look at the long term social movements which affect society and of which society is often quite unconscious.
    The west’s post-industrial decline is one of the key factors here. Linked to this is the shift to the service sector and the huge increase in further education, leading to
    the development of an educated élite whose main purpose is to impart and distribute information.
    Instead of making things or directing the affairs of a country according to some common purpose, we exchange opinions in a moral and intellectual vacuum. Along comes some idea so vague, so amorphous that it can be adapted to any and every political end (“the planet is in danger”, “let’s make the world a better place”…) and this rootless, newly educated élite crystallise around it like a supersaturated syrup in a school chemistry experiment.
    SunGCR has been emphasising the role of the UN Agenda 21 in furthering the environmental programme. it’s undoubtedly a key factor (and one which Delingpole deals with well in “Watermelons”, describing its history, and avoiding any accusations of conspiracy theorising by his light touch). But it wouldn’t present a danger if the social context didn’t encourge it.
    It’s natural for bureaucracies like the UN to produce grandiose plans to improve the world and so increase their own importance. It’s also absolutely natural for the fiercest opposition to come from American conservatives. That’s where the debate should begin, instead of which, it’s where it ends; with accusations of a commie conspiracy to control the world on one side, and insults about Tea Party rednecks on the other.
    I’ve been trying to get to grips with the reasons why the global warming question is stuck in this rut for a while, via my far too limited reading of sociology and politics. I’d like this blog to become a centre for discussion of this question, and welcome contributions from all sides.

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