Amidst the random scatter of reasons thrown out by Martin Durkin for not believing in human-induced climate change, one stands out. It’s not a scientific claim but it gets to the heart of what he and his programme are really about better than any number of graphs or arguments about ice core samples.
The argument is that climate change – and environmental issues generally – has become a cover under which communists, anarchists, anti-globalisers and other Enemies of Progress can gather, to fire their missiles at development undetected. They’re not really interested in ‘the environment’ at all. They just want to stick it to The Man because they’re bitter and disaffected, and green issues are just the latest excuse for them to do so. The consequences are that dying babies in Africa are denied the fruits of human progress. And it’s all our fault.
This ‘argument’ is slightly weakened by the fact that that Durkin is a self-declared Marxist, and is thus presumably pretty hostile to capitalism himself. But like a good Leninist he views human progress as always and unquestionably a good thing. ‘Progress’, in this context, means the unimpeded pursuit of technological development. It means unhindered industrial expansion. It means urbanisation, consumerism and Westernisation. Anything else is a betrayal of the poor and of humanity's potential.
If you have a mindset like this, it's easy to see why you would hate environmentalists. They oppose genetic modification, fossil fuel use, the destruction of rainforests, the displacement of tribal people – all of the things that make industrial society possible. If you see the world like this, climate change presents you with a unique problem, because it appears to objectively – a familiar word for a Marxist – demonstrate that the green message might be correct: unsustainable development really is killing us. Ergo, human-induced climate change cannot be happening. Ergo, those who suggest otherwise are not just wrong, but deceitful and malicious.
This weird worldview might explain how Durkin has managed to get the green movement so wrong. What really drives the greens, and always has, is a belief that ignorant and untrammelled human progress is destroying natural beauty, diversity and value. A few of them believe that human progress is indelibly awful, but the majority work hard within mainstream society to try and alter its direction and make it – that dread word – ‘sustainable’. Jonathon Porritt, one of Britain's leading greens, is an adviser to the government and works with some of the world's biggest corporations. Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the World Wildlife Fund spend most of their time trying to reform the system. The Green Party seeks power at Westminster not to destroy Western civilisation, but to save it from itself. For a bitter America-hating lefty, who wants to destroy the West and everything that it stands for, this kind of thing – the mainstream of the green movement – is not very inspiring.
Durkin is right about one thing though. Unlike him, greens do not believe that human ‘progress’ is always a good thing regardless of its impacts on the wider environment. They do not believe that humans have the right to exploit and destroy any other life form that they find convenient for their purposes. They believe that we should live within our means and show a little respect. Put like that, it's hardly a fanatical message. But then if Durkin wants to find a fanatic, he should probably turn the camera on himself.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist March 2007