Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Casus Belli

To invoke war or the danger of war to justify other political means is not really new. It has been often, and recently, used to curtail citizens rights and/or to limit the extend of democratic control of governments. In this interesting pod-cast (13 MB, duration 28 minutes) by the BBC, the tension between climate policy and democracy is discussed, among others, by James Lovelock, Mark Lynas and Michael Jacobs, advisor on climate change to the former UK Prime Minister Brown.

In previous posts here at the Klimazwiebel, some positions held by vocal climate researchers, purportedly smacking of stalinism, were criticized. This prompted probably justified responses that argued such comparison were far-fetched. Well, after hearing this pod-cast, I would say that I feel uneasy. There is indeed in some of the opinions expressed there a subtle - or clear - call for a limitation of democracy, faced by the most dangerous threat in the history of human kind. We have to go for broke, even if the bet on the table is democracy itself.
Not all opinions expressed in the podcast are one solid block, though. Whereas Lovelock would clearly defend an autocratic regime to impose severe emission cuts, Jacobs retorts that actually an autocratic regime would be detrimental for the climate cause: a regime like China would rather be more interested in pursuing economic growth to remain in power than in restraining emissions.
As an aside, I would share with you a personal experience that I felt when I moved to Germany 20 years ago. For me, the influence and power of the German Green party at that time was really surprising. After the fall of the wall, the Western Green party was augmented by bits of political grass-root movements from the former German Democratic Republic. I read and listened to their political messages and rhetoric anew, from a fresh perspective that probably many other German citizens could not have. Simultaneously, several historical television series were running episodes on Nazi Germany, some of them featuring not only the well-known events of the pre-war years and during the war itself, but also trying to explain its ideological roots. I could not avoid identifying, from my naïve perspective, clear similarities in their language and mostly in the  'kitsch' characterising their Weltanschauung: the cult for Boden (=Soil), Lebensraum, a society in harmony with nature and agriculture, their deep anti-capitalist views, etc. I am by no means implying that there is direct connection between 20th century nazism and 21st century German environmentalism, but I do have the feeling that their ideology partially drew from a common romantic substrate previously present in European culture of the 19th century, that has re-emerged in the last few decades.
Parts of environmentalism have however clearly recently changed, supporting now a decisive thrust in technological innovation and maybe nuclear power, rather than emphasizing energy restraint. Mark Lynas expresses it very clearly. Enjoy


sien said...

The last word in the post should be restraint.

Do you, Eduardo, feel queasy about affecting democracy partly because of Spanish experiences?

Zajko said...

Great program, and an important topic (I didn't really know about the current state of UK climate legislation).

Governments can carry out all sorts of policies without the expressed consent of the people, as long as there is trust in the government and little reason to oppose the policies. In the case of global warming, the issue has already become a political football in the US, and I'm sure large portions of the European population have made up their minds about it. As stated in the program, the scientific debate can serve as a cover for political/value positions, and because of the nature of climate science this debate can be continued (seemingly) indefinitely.
So should we take the Sarewitz route and try to clarify and reconcile the divergent value positions? Or trust that "the truth will out" through the democratic/scientific process? Or impose an autocratic regime to do the rational and urgent thing?

I think the idea of a "suspension of democracy" is a ridiculous and dangerous route.
I can understand the moral case made for it by Lovelock and others, but I can't agree.

ghost said...

You have to be careful, to make comparisons...

in the Green party case:
I have the feeling your are 20-30 years too late. Many ideas are mainstream and are exploited commercially now.

Democracy and climate protection: I agree totally with Zajko, there is no way. We have to solve in the Democracy or we cannot solve at all. In my experience: totalitarian regimes are worse in the environmental issues. At the GDR regime.

Furthermore, I also think it is not necessary. There are now grass-roots for more climate protection that are really pragmatic and there is an emerging big business and also small businesses. And more interestingly: ALL movements against climate protection are astroturfing.

In summary, I am a naive optimist and I think all your thoughts are pretty outmoded. At least, I am hoping it.

eduardo said...

@ 3

of course, one has to be careful. To be clear, I repeat that I am not accusing the green movement of any crime whatsoever. I did point out ideological cross-breedings that may occur across the whole political spectrum, even more so in the ideological soup of early 20th century Europe. It is, I think, no secret that fascism and communism share some common ground, and practical examples exists in which whole local cells of the communist party changed in block to the nazi party in Germany before the war, for instance Altona (near Hamburg).

Other example of such cross-breedings can be read here

Georg said...

Excellent Podcast, Edu. Some remarks which are not really connected.

1) Yes the Greens in Germany had that and might still have that in homoeopathic quantities. There is a smell of romantic "Blut und Boden" sometimes. So what? Is or was this party ever beyound the edge of democracy with clear anti-democratic objectives? I dont think so. You can find such movements at least as well in the other democratic parties in Gremany, FDP/CDU and even SPD (in the 60s the FDP had a quite significant fraction of former SS members,_die_nach_Mai_1945_politisch_t%C3%A4tig_waren) with at least in some cases a solid ideologic background
At the end the green became the party for people with good and fix salary who have some time to care about frog migration.

2) Do we know that democracy will handle climate change in an "optimal way"? No, it's not designed for it (it was designed to solve the social problems at the end of the 19th century and "designed" might not be the right term) as chinese party-dictatorship neither was designed for it. For the moment there is no reason to think that one system deals with the climate change issue significantly better than the other. Actually none is dealing with it for the moment.

3) The praise of a chinese style oligarchy is even much louder in other areas,2828,696471,00.html, but nobody seems to wonder if for example this kind of admiration of chinese economy is a profound anti-democratic movement among german managers.

4) Stalinism means something quite precise. Even if some expression of opinion could be qualified as anti-democratic it's still not stalinism. Or at least one would wonder if Lovelock's opinion should really be cassified as "stalinist" why not faschist, totalitarian or whatsoever.

Abrazos Georg

Anonymous said...

Anyone who says that climate change is like a war and therefore democracy should be suspended should be regarded as a dangerous extremist.

But I don't think it is appropriate to make particular associations, such as referring to stalinism or nazism.

Anonymous said...

but I do have the feeling that their ideology partially drew from a common romantic substrate previously present in European culture of the 19th century, that has re-emerged in the last few decades

Democracy, individual rights, and quite more so capitalism, are "unnatural" (to human nature). Power allowing checks and balances its unnautral; even stupid from power's point of view. You only have to look how unprecedented and rare democracy is in human history. But then, it happens to work, so you can't fight it by reasoning. You need subtle tools, like this common romantic substrate you mention, or better, dangerous AGW theory. Which is the perfect storm as un antidemocracy tool. So, whether you like it or not, you will get the same antidemocracy crowd supporting and using AGW, because it suits their feelings and needs. And of course, every period has different tools against democracy. That's the link, as I see it.

And "nature" (however you define it) vs individual freedom has been, and will allways be a very convinient fallacy.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Georg: 'Is or was this party ever beyond the edge of democracy with clear anti-democratic objectives?'

I don't know about the official German Green party but I mixed with a lot of ordinary German Greens in the late '70s and early '80s and there were two things that made me (an Englander) uncomfortable: they were all startlingly keen to take all their clothes off in public (another characteristic they shared with late 19th-century nature-naturism-blood-soil-bicycling Romanticism, if not with mainstream Nazism) and they all adored the Red Army Faction.

Then there's Joschka Fischer.

Moving swiftly on, another thing about those German Greens of thirty years ago is that they opposed nuclear power mostly because they saw it as both a symbol and facilitator of state power. They didn't like other aspects but what they mostly talked about was the way nuclear power required a centralized state and was, they said, a way of perpetuating a centralized state.

This argument never made much sense (could the same not have been said of big coal-powered power stations?) but you can still hear it, unspoken, in the conspicuous gaps in the logic of modern Greens when they talk against nuclear power. Prominent modern Greens like Britain's Caroline Lucas say it's wrong to subsidise nuclear power but essential to subsidise wind power; CHP is terrific but it's wrong to burn waste to generate power. Are they incoherent because they aren't giving their real arguments or they are simply incoherent? Being big-hearted, I suspect the former and that Greens like Lucas are, at bottom, long-thighed 1970s Bavarian 'Atomkraft Nein Danke' hippie nudists.

Georg said...

That's simply not enough to put a party in a stalinist context. As I said you find deviating ideas in any party and any party has to struggle with these kind of ideologic struggles.
The Fuehrer was vegetarian. Does that make any vegetarian a Nazi? Brittney spears has a strong tendency to public nudity. Does that make her an adherent of blood and soil ideology?
I recommend taking the program of a party literal and not looking for some tribal psychology. You still might think the greens are nuts, but still there is a difference between nuditity and stalisnism.

P Gosselin said...

Good post. I'm trying to think of a fruit or vegetable that's green outside and brown inside.
When I hear elitists like Hillmann, you know precisely what this movement is about. They are hopelessly neurotic pessimists who see nothing but disaster in the future, unless of course they are handed over the reins of power - then there's hope.
These mentally unstable fear-mongers should be placed as far away from power as possible.

Anonymous said...


If Georg is THE GEORG, I mean Georg H. from primaklima, never, I say NEVER talk about Stalin or Nazis on his blog!


You know who I am, I guess, Georg?

Funny that some people think about the same ideologies when they think about the green movement or the climate panic movement.

Isn't it Georg?

Now you have to ban me forever from your blog, but first you have to check my IP ;-) to be sure that it's me.


Vinny Burgoo said...

Georg, I was a bit incoherent myself. I didn't mean to argue that those German Greens were Stalinist. I mentioned their support for the RAF because the RAF was 'beyond the edge of democracy with clear anti-democratic objectives' (to say the least!), not because of its Marxism. The German Greens I knew were more excited by anarchism than communism and I think that's true of many modern British Greens too. Most of the direct action in Britain is co-ordinated by groups that are either officially or effectively anarchist and many of the leading anti-carbon activists are either current or former anarchists. (Even the comparatively sensible Lynas used to be a pie-throwing anarchist.) Yes, you should judge a party by its manifesto rather than by its supporters but political parties are only one aspect of politics - and I'd say that, in Britain at least, the Green Party has far less influence on public attitudes and on government policy than noisy protesters and their slightly more grown-up supporters in the press.

Werner Krauss said...

dear hobbits, I really do admire your stubbornness: while ordinary people worry about BP and the oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you are afraid of naked green Stalinists who presumably want to take over the world - wow! Your sense of reality is very impressive! You are funny guys, but please stay in your hobbitland and don't drink when drive!

Anonymous said...

@Werner Krauss

I don't think greens or catastrophists are stalinists or fascists or something else, but in their naive innocent behaviour they might be the seed for a new kind of fascism.

Do we really need democracy? Are we pushed to insult people to save the world? Do we have to hide data or keep people away from the scientific process because they are scpetical?

Nearly all these green activists in the 70ties and 80ties were pacifists. Are they still today?

I mean, saving the world is a big think and you can't make an omellette without breaking egss.

We have mor important things to do than to save the american coast, we haave to SAVE THE WORLD STUPID!!! ;-)))

If you are german you ought to know how fascism comes crawling in.

MEPHISTOPHELES. Ein Teil von jener Kraft,
Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.

FAUST. Was ist mit diesem Rätselwort gemeint?

MEPHISTOPHELES. Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint!
Und das mit Recht, denn alles, was entsteht,
Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht;
Drum besser wär’s, daß nichts entstünde.
So ist denn alles, was ihr Sünde,
Zerstörung, kurz, das Böse nennt
Mein eigentliches Element.

itisi69 said...

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

(Hermann Göring)

Werner Krauss said...

Folks, please calm down. It's a matter of hygiene, too. I am fine with discussing authoritarian fantasies etc in green thinking, but please make a reality check from time to time. Why not read about the greatest oil spill in American history? It will help you re-focusing your perspective. It is not caused by the greens, nor was the holocaust or the Gulag.

Georg Hoffmann said...

No Werner, everything is the fault of eco-fachist thinking. How could you ever blame BP?

"the hardcore climatologists resemble Stalinists (sometimes you have to lie to the people in order to make them do the right thing), while the constructivists resemble social democrats (political negotiation instead of war)."

You could use the occasion to declare that you had a drink too much when writing this.

ghost said...


right, the oil catastrophe looks really bad.

I did not accuse you that, but there is strong tendency on the onion to put all Green or environmental groups and some climate scientists into anti-democratic, totalitarian, or religious corner. Well, it is your political opinion, but then you should remove the "Honest broker" label because it feels quite weired now.

ghost said...

PS: of that is my opinion of some articles here, it is possible, I misunderstood. But, I did not find any article showing the connection of creationist and climate "skeptics". I did not find any article about cliques of climate skeptics, I did not find any article about the connection of fossil fuel lobby and climate skeptics. I did not find any articles about the weak and good sides of "layman science" in blogs for example. I found really few things about things which are good in climate science, I found only few comments, where you criticize the poster skeptics like McIntyre or Watts or the propaganda of Fox News, or the wrong article in the "Welt". Is this not necessary? I mean you are the honest brokers, aren't you? Shouldn't you say what is good and what is bad from all sides? Is this boring?

Werner Krauss said...

Still chewing that Stalinist-bone, Georg Hoffmann? Good point, this one goes to you.
Anyway, thanks for posting my quote again; it's not very elegant, but it is still a good thought, I guess, beside the 'Stalinist'. There are indeed concerned climatologists and environmentalists who base their arguments exclusively on scientific 'truths'; I still argue that this can fire back. Instead, a more constructivist approach is more pragmatic. It is open to negotiations, and that is what climate politics should be about. It is pragmatic. And it avoids sometimes pure confrontation with skeptics (who also play the science-truth game). If you argue that we need alternative energies because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even skeptics might agree - whatever they think about climate change. And it is no longer necessary to make small lies to keep the 'truth' about climate in line with your politics - something that both sides, skeptic and admonisher, tend to do.

ghost said...


hm, maybe you are right. A climate skeptical and rather renewable energy anti journalist, Ulli Kulke from the "Welt", wrote a column with the title "Better the Sun of tomorrow than the oil of yesterday". Stating, we have to think about an energy change.

Well, some month ago you onionists complained about a statement of a former IPCC chair: the mankind and politics need catastrophes to make good environmental laws. It is looking like the good man could be right....

In contrast, the NZZ wrote, it is not bad. There is also oil naturally leaking into the gulf, blah, blah. The Mexican platform was worse (belonged to the same company, btw) The NZZ said even the ExxonValdez catastrophe did not cause long term damages. Well, of course, it is not true.

We will see.