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May 11, 2011

'Denial is everywhere': the traumas of an intelligent green

May 11, 2011
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Some beautiful writing and public agonising from George Monbiot on the impasse of the Monbiot pic 2environmental movement, and whether it should follow the path of the story tellers or the number crunchers:

“Denial is everywhere. Those opposing windfarms find it convenient to deny that climate change is happening, or that turbines produce much electricity. Those promoting windfarms downplay the landscape impacts. Enthusiasts for nuclear power ignore the impacts of uranium mining. Opponents of nuclear power dismiss the solid science on the impacts of radiation and embrace wildly-inflated junk numbers instead.

Primitivists decry all manufacturing industry, but fail to explain how their medicines and spectacles, scythes and billhooks will be produced. Localists rely on technologies – such as microwind and high-latitude solar power – that cannot deliver. Technocratic greens refuse to see that if economic growth is not addressed, a series of escalating catastrophes is inevitable. Romantic greens insist that the problem can be solved without even engaging in these dilemmas, yet fail to explain how else it can be done.

We’re all responding to the same impulses, but we’re all being tripped up by denial. Denial, and a failure to see the whole picture, are our enemies. Or perhaps, as doctors say about alcohol, our false friends.

Green narratives have collapsed precisely because they were unable to withstand the steely quantification demanded by an attempt to get to grips with problems like climate change. Or they have been struck down by circumstance: such as the inconvenient non-appearance of the commodities crunch they predicted. If a new poetic narrative is no better able to answer questions such as how a steady-state economy can be achieved, how low-carbon electricity will be produced, how the Common Fisheries Policy can be reformed or how, in a land-based economy, bricks and glass will be made, it too will collapse. In fact, it will never get off the ground as these questions, once formulated, won’t go away.

environmentalismPerhaps we are less tolerant of myth than we used to be. Perhaps we should be. Is creating new, opposing myths the best way of confronting the founding myths of neoliberal capitalism? I don’t think so. Is it not better to fight them with withering analysis, quantification and exposure? But can we do this without becoming insensible to beauty, and to the impulse – a love for the world and its people, its places and its living creatures – which turned us green in the first place? I don’t know.”

This builds on his earlier piece

“All of us in the environment movement – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project.”

2 comments

  1. A very interesting analysis, which is of direct relevance to the development community.
    I am just reading a paper by Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock and Matt Andrews on Capability Traps (Working Paper 234 of Centre for Global Development), who write about a similar issue in development. They compare Small Development (the romantics in Monbiot’s analysis) with Big Development (those in the mainstream). The analysis is strikingly similar, and maybe also in the case of the development community: we need to reflect whether we are really addressing the dilemma.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Rinus.

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