Monday, March 14, 2016
Australian Greenies trying to crawl to the workers
After their attacks on coal companies have caused big problems for those companies, Greenies are trying to shield themselves from the fallout of that. If the companies go broke, it will be bad news for their employees. And the Greenies don't want to be the target of unhappy employees. So the press release below is an appeal to the corporate regulator to "do something" about the financial health of the companies concerned. What the regulator could do is unknown
Environmental Justice Australia and Greenpeace International today alerted the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to a number of Australian creditors who would be at risk should Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal company, file for bankruptcy.
Many of Peabody’s senior lenders are calling for the company to file for bankruptcy in the U.S. However, this could risk Peabody’s Australian employees’ redundancy entitlements, while Australian state governments could be left to foot the bill for rehabilitating mines if Peabody’s financial assurance is insufficient.
Peabody owns nine operating coal mines in Queensland and New South Wales seemingly via a subsidiary registered in Gibraltar. Peabody's Australian assets secure, in part, a financing facility worth US$1.2 billion for the company. Not only will Peabody's likely bankruptcy impact whether its operations in Australia will continue, but the company’s complicated structure may determine if Australian creditors get a fair deal.
David Barnden, a lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia specialising in finance and climate change, said:
"Peabody is in poor financial health. It has a complicated holding structure and is highly leveraged. Bankruptcy appears imminent. ASIC has been asked to investigate whether Australian creditors will get a fair deal if and when bankruptcy occurs. Potential creditors include workers who may have redundancy entitlements and the New South Wales and Queensland state governments which might need to pay for rehabilitation costs beyond any financial assurance held for Peabody's mines. It is a matter of public interest that Australian creditors are protected to the full extent of the law."
Marina Lou, lawyer from Greenpeace International, said:
"Regulators in the U.S. have already raised concerns that taxpayers could be left on the hook for coal mine reclamation obligations as the coal industry declines, and a Peabody bankruptcy would significantly exacerbate these risks. Australian regulators should also be investigating the risks to protect taxpayers and the environment from a potential Peabody bankruptcy.
"Australian taxpayers have already heavily subsidised this industry during its decline and now they may also need to bail it out and clean up its mess after it finally closes down too.
"We need ASIC to act because this isn’t a one-off. There are many other struggling mining companies in Australia and unless proper plans are made for when they go bankrupt, the overall cost to the country and mining workers could be far greater."
EJA and Greenpeace have identified a number of potential creditors of Peabody's Australian operations. They include workers at Peabody's mines who may miss out on entitlements, and the governments of New South Wales and Queensland, which may become creditors if Peabody's financial assurance is insufficient to rehabilitate its mine sites.
In this scenario, either the taxpayer will foot the bill for rehabilitation costs or sites may never be rehabilitated. Unfortunately, the long-term nature of environmental issues associated with voids from open-cut coal mines, such as acid mine drainage, means liabilities may not crystallise until long into the future.
As a result of these public interest concerns, ASIC has been asked to investigate the relationship between Peabody and its Australian subsidiaries.
Press release from EJA
Banning fossil fuel benefits
Does their abysmal grasp of energy and economics make Hillary and Bernie unfit to govern?
"Natural gas is a good, cheap alternative to fossil fuels," former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously intoned. (Psssst. Ms. Nancy, natural gas is a fossil fuel.)
"If I thought there was any evidence that drilling could save people money, I would consider it. But it won’t," President Obama said in 2008. "We can’t drill our way out of the problem" of high energy prices and disappearing supplies, he still insisted two years later. How shocked he must be now.
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – aka, fracking – has unleashed a gusher of oil and natural gas, sent oil prices plunging $100 a barrel since 2008, dropped US oil imports to their lowest level in 45 years, and saved American families tens of billions of dollars annually in lower energy costs.
But if price and "peak oil" rationales fail, there is always "dangerous manmade global warming" to justify carbon-based energy and fracking bans, and renewable energy mandates and subsidies.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton contend that climate change is an "existential threat" to people and planet. Senator Sanders says bluntly, "I do not support fracking." He also wants legislation that would keep America’s abundant oil, gas and coal "in the ground."
Mrs. Clinton opposes all fossil fuel energy extraction on federal lands. She rejects fracking if "any locality or state is against it," any methane is released or water contaminated, or companies don’t reveal "exactly what chemicals they are using." Under her watch, there won’t be "many places in America where fracking will continue." She will "stop fossil fuels" and ensure 50% renewable energy by 2030.
One senses that these folks inhabit a parallel universe, cling like limpets to anti-hydrocarbon ideologies, or perhaps embody Mark Twain’s admonition that "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you’re a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."
One also senses that as president the two Democrat candidates will continue Mr. Obama’s imperial practices. If Congress resists their policy initiatives, they will simply issue more Executive Branch diktats, and ignore their impacts on jobs and the economy, the absence of evidence that fracking harms human health or water quality, the reality that renewable energy "alternatives" also cause serious problems – and scientists’ continuing inability to separate human from natural influences on climate and weather events and trends that are essentially the same as during the twentieth century.
Officially, 7.8 million Americans are still unemployed. But add the long-term unemployed, those who looked for a job once in the past year but not in recent weeks, and those who are working involuntarily in low-pay, part-time positions – and the total swells to 16.8 million. Over 46 million are on food stamps.
The federal debt hit $19 trillion in February and is projected to reach $23 trillion by 2020. In FY2015, the US Treasury collected $3.2 trillion in taxes and other revenues, but spent $3.7 trillion. Profligate state and local spending has swollen these deficits by tens of billions more, for the same reason: politicians are in cahoots with unions, crony capitalist rent seekers, and assorted grievance, victim and welfare groups.
Mountains of federal regulations cost businesses and families $1.9 trillion annually – half of our national budget. They drag down investment, job creation and tax revenues. State and local rules add more pain.
To borrow the Greens and Democrats’ favorite term, this is unsustainable.
Oil, gas and coal account for 82% of all US energy and 68% of US electricity generation – reliably and affordably. Producing this abundant energy also generates positive cash-flow: fossil fuel bonuses, rents and royalties from federal lands totaled $126 billion between 2003 and 2013; corporate and personal taxes resulting from the jobs and activities powered by that energy added tens of billions more.
Wind, solar and biofuel programs, by contrast, are black holes for hard-earned taxpayer subsidies – and rarely work unless consumers are required to use that energy, and pay premium prices for doing so.
Even getting to 50% "carbon-free" energy fifteen years from now will require: vastly more subsidies and mandates; turning entire forests into fuel; blanketing croplands and habitats with enormous biofuel plantations, wind farms and solar installations; and killing millions of birds, bats and other wildlife in the process. However, biomass and biofuels are also carbon-based and also release carbon dioxide – and their energy per volume is paltry, their energy efficiency deplorable, compared to hydrocarbons.
A renewable energy future means scenic, wild and agricultural lands become industrial zones and high voltage transmission corridors – feeding urban centers where people will have lower living standards.
Environmentalists used to tell poor countries they could never have the lifestyles of people in developed nations, as it wouldn’t be sustainable. Now they say our living standards are unsustainable and aren’t fair to the world’s poor. Therefore, their lives should be improved a little via wind, solar and biofuel energy, while ours are knocked down a peg via climate and sustainability regulations (except for ruling elites).
Environmentalists and other liberals are also hardwired to be incapable of acknowledging the countless health, welfare and technological blessings that creative free enterprise capitalism has bestowed on humanity – or to recognize the dearth of innovation by repressive socialist regimes.
Liberals like to say Republicans want to control what you do in your bedroom. But Democrats want to control everything you do outside your bedroom – but for the noble, exalted purpose of changing genetically coded human behavior, to Save the Planet for future generations. That means unelected Earth Guardians must control the lives, livelihoods, living standards, liberties and life spans of commoners and peasants, especially in "flyover country."
Fossil fuel and fracking bans are part of that "fundamental transformation." They will force us to use less oil and gas, but they also mean we will import more petroleum from Saudi Arabia and Iran, though not from Canada via the Keystone pipeline. Energy prices will again climb into the stratosphere, more jobs will disappear, manufacturing will shrivel, and royalty and tax revenues will evaporate.
The billionaire bounties that Hillary, Bernie and their supporters also need to pay for all the free college, ObamaCare, renewable energy subsidies, income redistribution and other "entitlements" will likewise be devoured quickly, while millions more people end up on welfare and unemployment rolls. The bills will simply be forwarded to our children and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, despite any US bans, other countries will continue using fossil fuels to create jobs and grow their economies. So total atmospheric CO2 and greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise.
Of course, "climate deniers" and other members of The Resistance will have to be dealt with. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will pave the way on that. In the process, as Obama and Clinton mentor Saul Alinsky put it in his Rules for Radicals, the ruling elites will pick, freeze, personalize and polarize their targets. They will repeat their allegations and maintain their pressure until all resistance crumbles. Facts will be irrelevant. Power and perceptions will rule.
Blue collar, middle class and minority families feel they are fighting for their very survival, against policies and regulations that profoundly impair their jobs, incomes and futures. Indeed, the governing classes are actively harming the very people they claim to care the most about – and actually killing people in the world’s poorest nations, by denying them access to energy and other modern technologies.
That’s why Trump, Cruz, Carson and other "outsider" candidates have resonates. People are fed up.
Perhaps it’s time to borrow a page from Alinsky – Rule Four, to be precise – and make "the enemy," the ruling elites, live up to their own rules. Watching them scream and squeal would be most entertaining.
State Environmental Officials Say Obama’s EPA Has Overstepped Its Authority
The EPA, one state regulator says, has been "bypassing the guidelines under the federal environmental statutes on how to implement changes." (Photo: Jim Urquhart /Reuters/Newscom)
The Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its legal authority by imposing a regulatory agenda on the states, environmental officials at the state level testified Wednesday to a Senate committee.
Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, testified that the EPA’s flood of environmental regulations since President Barack Obama took office in 2009 chipped away at the Founding Fathers’ intent of "cooperative federalism" between the national and state governments.
Instead of consulting state regulators when establishing new policies, Huffman said, EPA bureaucrats increasingly are imposing regulations through what is called federal guidance.
"There’s two problems with this: EPA guidance further eliminates state discretion, and it allows them to avoid the accountability and transparency of rulemaking," Huffman testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
When Congress passed the Clean Air Act more than 40 years ago, Huffman said, lawmakers put states in charge of establishing procedures to meet federal standards. In fact, over 95 percent of the environmental regulatory duties in the U.S. are carried out by the states, he said, citing the Environmental Council of the States.
The West Virginia official said Congress placed the primary responsibility with the states because lawmakers knew that state authorities would be more knowledgeable of local environments than D.C. bureaucrats. Rather than following congressional intent, he said, EPA regulators seized authority from the states.
"In the past seven years, states have been forced to digest more of these federal takeovers … than were ever served in the prior three federal administrations combined 10 times over," Becky Keogh, director at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, testified.
Keogh said the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, regulations on the coal industry designed to cut carbon emissions, is illustrative of the diminishment of state sovereignty.
"The reality is that states are more pawn than partner," she said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works, noted that the amicus brief he and 33 other senators along with 171 House members filed against the plan last month at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the court papers, the lawmakers argued that the plan violates the Clean Air Act by coercing states to implement the EPA’s policies.
In early February, the Supreme Court halted the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan until legal challenges from more than two dozen states, four state agencies, and dozens of industry groups made their way through federal appeals court.
Deborah Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, lauded the EPA’s hand in establishing federal baselines for environmental policies.
Without minimum standards, she said, states that put more effort toward creating environmental policies still would bear the consequences from neighboring states that choose to do less.
"National environmental regulations establish an even playing field between states, helping to prevent a regulatory race to the bottom in a misguided attempt to attract economic development," Markowitz testified.
West Virginia’s Huffman agreed that federal standards should be recognized, but said currently states are not given enough flexibility to determine how to meet those standards. Further, he said EPA creating those regulations through executive "fiat" imposed on states without local input.
"The real problem for me as a regulator is the way [EPA] is going about implementing these standards," he said. "They are bypassing the guidelines under the federal environmental statutes on how to implement changes."
Solar power: a waste of energy
Solar power is still more expensive and less efficient than fossil fuels
Employment in the US solar-energy sector is booming. More and more workers are being employed to help build and maintain this lean, clean and green technology. According to the latest figures from the Solar Foundation, solar companies are employing workers nearly 12 times faster than the overall US economy. Of all the jobs created in the US in 2015, a total of one per cent were in the solar sector. Now, more than 208,000 Americans work in the solar industry, marking a 20 per cent surge in a single year. If you track the figures as far back as 2010, the increase in employment is a whopping 123 per cent.
Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm celebrated the new figures. ‘Americans want good-paying jobs, and solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy’, she said. ‘Our citizens are making and installing those solar panels, and, with the right policies, the US can create hundreds of thousands more solar jobs here at home. What more needs to be said?’
A recent report by the Solar Foundation found that solar was employing more people than other energy sectors: ‘The solar workforce is larger than some well-established fossil-fuel generation sectors, such as the oil and gas extraction industry, which shed 13,800 jobs in 2015 and now employs 187,200 people.’ The report also boasted that ‘the solar industry is already three times larger than the coal-mining industry, which employs 67,929 people’.
However, these figures are misleading. It is important to note that, as a relatively new energy industry, a lot of the new jobs created in solar are in installation – 120,000 out of the 208,000, in fact. To create a fairer comparison with other energy sectors, those involved in the installation of solar panels must be subtracted from the overall figure, leaving 88,000 people employed in the maintenance of solar-energy equipment. The figures quoted in the Solar Foundation report merely underline how inefficient and expensive solar is in comparison to fossil fuels.
This has been proven by the Energy Information Administration, which notes that, as of 2014, only 0.4 per cent of the US’s electricity production came from solar energy. In contrast, natural gas provided 27 per cent of US electricity and coal provided 39 per cent. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 180,000 are employed in oil and gas extraction, while coal employs roughly 68,000. Despite having high employment numbers, solar energy provides a pitiful amount of energy. Similarly, when compared to the oil and gas extraction industry, the return on energy created per worker in the solar industry is tiny.
The crude Keynesian might say that solar power is producing more jobs, and surely that is a good thing? But this is only true in the same way that paying people to dig holes in the ground also creates jobs. The problem is that it also creates costs. If more people are employed to produce much smaller amounts of energy, the cost of energy goes up. Put simply, more workers equals higher energy costs. A surge in solar employment isn’t a one-off attempt to stimulate the economy. After all, proponents of solar energy argue that it is the future of energy provision in the US. If this is the case, the average American will end up paying for more expensive energy, either at the point of consumption or through the use of their taxes.
While the promise of higher employment rates may sound progressive, increasing the amount of labour required to produce energy is a step backwards. Throughout human history, the quest has been to find sources of energy that reduce necessary human labour, from the early use of waterways to the domestication of beasts of burden to the steam engine and our short-lived nuclear age. Technology might one day make solar energy more cost efficient, but the amount of jobs needed to produce it at the moment suggests that it won’t happen any time soon.
CANADA: What's the REAL story behind the CBC's changing coverage of that climate change poll?
According to Esther Enkin, the current Ombudsman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), she "has a mandate to determine whether information content the CBC has produced fully respects CBC's journalism policy."
With that thought in mind, let’s consider whether Enkin did her job concerning a complaint I lodged on February 27 about the way in which CBC radio covered a recent public opinion poll about climate change. Here is the background.
In an apparent attempt to provide cover for the federal/provincial global warming summit last week in Vancouver, a study authored by researchers from University of Montreal and three American universities was released on February 15. Entitled "The Distribution of Climate Change Public Opinion in Canada," the study was reported on at about 10:00 am on February 22 by CBC on their web site.
However, Australian science presenter Jo Nova pointed out that apparently the CBC later edited both the headline and the story to make it more politically correct (see the CBC's explanation for those changes here).
As Nova points out, at first the CBC headline read, "Climate change: Majority of Canadians don’t believe it’s caused by humans," with appropriate text to support this conclusion.
But, as Nova writes:
"The original message revealed a sacred truth that must not be spoken. How would most Canadians feel about being forced to pay money to change the weather if they knew most other Canadians also thought it was a waste of billions?"
So, after the survey researchers complained, the headline was changed to "Canadians divided over human role in climate change, study suggests," and significant parts of the piece rewritten, presumably to give more of the message needed by politicians meeting in Vancouver.
So it appears our national broadcaster acted as a cheerleader for the global warming crusade. Nothing unusual about that.
What was different this time, however, was that, about mid-day on February 22, Adam Stroud, Associate Producer of Toronto-based CBC Syndicated Audio, reached out to me -- someone who vehemently opposes the CBC’s belief that the science of climate change is "settled" in favour of alarmism -- to comment on the meaning of the poll.
Stroud apparently did not know of my position and wanted local CBC radio show hosts across Canada to speak with me about where scientists and educators were "falling short" in popularizing the point of view CBC holds dear.
I was also asked to discuss how they could do better "in informing the public on climate change."
It did not seem to occur to Stroud that many Canadians are skeptical of the CBC’s stance because, as is well demonstrated by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), it is not supported by the science.
NIPCC does not pull its punches, concluding in its November 2015 report "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming":
"Probably the most widely repeated claim in the debate over global warming is that ‘97% of scientists agree’ that climate change is man-made and dangerous," the authors write. "This claim is not only false, but its presence in the debate is an insult to science."
(Note: Joe Bast, CEO of the Heartland Institute, the publishers of the NIPCC, discussed this valuable report on line on March 9, 2016 here.)
I accepted Stroud’s request, only to have him drop me later when one of the researchers of the original poll became available for the interview. (Or was is because he discovered my position on the issue?)
Hoping (naively it appears) for fair coverage of the survey, I nevertheless sent Stroud information to help CBC interviewers properly quiz the survey researcher. I explained:
"The first question in the poll is a trick that should be exposed by CBC interviewers, I suggest. It was:
"From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?"
Besides the fact that temperatures do not quote get warmer unquote; they increase (or decrease); picking the last four decades is deceptive. All scientists on both sides of the debate agree it has generally warmed in the past 40 years. However, in the last 19 years, temperatures have generally stayed stable, with the variation generally staying within the uncertainty (see attached). The answer to the question, is it getting warmer entirely depends on the time interval chosen.
In this video, Professor Carter shows that it has warmed since 16,000 years ago
He shows it has cooled since 10,000 years ago
He shows it has cooled in the last 2,000 years
He shows it has neither warmed nor cooled since 700 years ago
He shows it has warmed in the past 40 years
But not in the last 8 years (now 19 actually)
But, Prof. Carter also shows, the last two temperature intervals are not statistically significant and "absolutely not unusual."
So Carter concludes, "Is it warming or not - it depends on the time interval chosen."
I suggest the CBC point this out to the researchers. Alternatively, I would be happy to discuss this on air."
Stroud responded, "Thanks for that. We'll look into this further." .......
No one responded so, on February 27, I complained to Ombudsman Enkin, about the situation. She replied that she had "no say in day-to-day decision-making" concerning CBC programming and described her mandate as above.
So, I sent to Enkin samples of where On the Coast’s coverage of the climate survey violated CBC's journalism policy and asked her:
"Are you saying then that, in your opinion, the situation I described below adequately fulfills the standards laid out in CBC's journalism policy? A quick glace at CBC's journalism policy shows many places, a small sampling of which I list below, where the situation described in the e-mails below clearly violates CBC's journalism policy. Are you saying that, in your professional judgement as CBC Ombudsman, these standards were indeed followed in the circumstances I describe?"
Enkin did not answer my questions and again asked me to explain my concerns.
"Editorial judgement about what research is done or who is approached is generally beyond the mandate of this office," she concluded.
So, I wrote to her: "If you want to just focus on one of these policy violations, I suggest you take the following: Science and Health; Implications and validity of results of scientific research
The CBC Vancouver interview obviously did not "reflect the true implications" of the research and did not raise any of the problems with the work that I sent to CBC Toronto (since CBC Toronto did not share the information with CBC Vancouver even though they had many hours to do so).
Back and forth it went, Enkin asking for me to explain my concerns, me explaining them and then her asking again. I eventually gave up.
Beware Greens in progressive clothing
No amount of spin can hide environmentalism's miserablism
There are two main ways in which the relationship between man and nature can be understood. Some contend that humans should reshape the natural world for their own benefit, while others argue that humanity should respect natural limits.
The first view can be traced to Francis Bacon (1561-1626). The brilliant English philosopher, statesman and scientist ushered in the Enlightenment view that humans should seek to dominate nature. By this he did not mean that nature should be destroyed, as is sometimes alleged by greens, but rather harnessed to meet human needs.
Many key Enlightenment figures, including the French encyclopédistes Jean le Rond d’Alembert and Denis Diderot, recognised the key contribution Bacon made to modernity. Immanuel Kant, the great German Enlightenment philosopher, hailed Bacon in the preface to his Critique of Pure Reason (1781).
There is a strong argument that Bacon created the preconditions for the idea of progress. Writing in his classic study, The Idea of Progress (1920), John Bagnell Bury said that, for Bacon, ‘the true object… of the investigation of nature is not, as the Greek philosophers held, speculative satisfaction, but to establish the reign of man over nature; and this Bacon judged to be attainable, provided new methods of attacking the problems were introduced’.
In retrospect, Bacon’s supporters were right to recognise the importance of his insights. By reshaping and harnessing nature for our own benefit, we have created a far more prosperous society. It is hard to imagine the whole panoply of aircraft, cars, computers, electricity grids, hospitals, schools, railways, roads, telephones, universities and the like without it. Yet Bacon is virtually forgotten, except by the green and feminist authors who deride him for allegedly advocating the rape of nature.
In fact, mass prosperity and economic progress have brought enormous benefits to humanity. There are many ways in which this improvement can be measured, but perhaps the most striking is average life expectancy. It has increased from about 30 in 1800 to over 70 today. That increase alone – which it should be remembered is a global average – gives the lie to the claim that only the wealthy have benefited from mass affluence. An average of over 40 extra years of life is a considerable feat, worthy of huge celebration.
Yet this view that humans should strive to dominate nature has fallen out of favour. Since the 1970s, an alternative conception of man’s relationship to nature has become dominant. This perspective holds that humans should be constrained by natural limits. If they do not accept such limitations, so the argument goes, we will suffer all sorts of nasty consequences.
Historically, this view was most commonly associated with Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). For Malthus, these limits were expressed in the form of overpopulation. His Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, argued that if the human population was not kept in check, then there would be famine and war. Malthus’s essay has influenced conservatives, miserablists and misanthropes ever since.
As it happens, Malthus’s argument was not original. Many had argued before him that humans were constrained by natural limits. He gained prominence because his views were a direct riposte to the optimism of Enlightenment thinkers such as Nicolas de Condorcet, William Godwin and Adam Smith. He restated the case for pessimism when it was on the defensive, and sought to undermine faith in the power of human reason.
Over the past two centuries, Malthus’s predictions of doom have fared terribly. The global population is over seven times the size it was in his day, and yet people are far better off. Although the world is far from perfect, the average person lives a longer, better and healthier life than ever before. Under such circumstances it should not be a surprise that Malthusians have been on the defensive for over a century and a half.
Sadly, similar ideas have come to the fore again, albeit in a modified form, since the 1960s. The emphasis this time around is not so much on population – although that preoccupation has not disappeared – but the idea of overconsumption. Contemporary green thinking has reinvented the idea of a natural limit in a slightly different guise.
This notion is not confined to campaigning groups or self-proclaimed green political parties. Since the 1970s, it has become mainstream among Western governments and international organisations. Often the discussion is posed in terms of the need for sustainability – essentially a codeword for permanent austerity. From this starting point, the green-minded deride popular consumption and argue that the economic development of poor countries needs to be constrained for the sake of the environment.
One of the main goals of Andrea Wulf’s widely acclaimed The Invention of Nature is to rewrite the history of green thinking with the dashing Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) as its founder. Although he is little-known in the English-speaking world – or at least he was until Wulf’s book became a bestseller – the German scientist and explorer was a much more attractive figure than Malthus.
He was perhaps the best-known scientist of his age – comparable in fame to Napoleon – and a renowned explorer. He met and influenced a tremendous range of historical figures, including German literary giants such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, US president Thomas Jefferson, and the South American revolutionary Simón Bolívar. Charles Darwin, writing in his autobiography, credited Humboldt with giving him the ‘burning zeal’ to study the natural sciences. Humboldt’s best-known expedition was a six-year trip to Latin America, where, despite facing many hardships, he did a systematic botanical study of tens of thousands of plants in the region. Humboldt was also staunchly anti-slavery and opposed to colonialism.
If Wulf’s book was a straightforward biography of an unfairly neglected historical figure, it would deserve all of the plaudits. But its many admirers seem either to ignore or fail to recognise the significance of the ill-advised second goal the author set herself. In the prologue, she states that she aims to ‘understand why we think as we do about the natural world’. But, in that respect, the book is a failure. For one thing, to achieve that objective it would be necessary to write an entirely different book. Rather than focus on Humboldt, she would need to examine critically the changing perspectives of the natural world. On an even more basic level, the discussion of Humboldt’s life leads to a neglect of green ideas that existed before him.
The main focus of Wulf’s study is what Humboldt called his Naturgemälde (which can be roughly translated as his ‘painting of nature’). This was a sketch drawn by Humboldt that showed that nature was a complex web in which everything is connected. In that respect, it anticipated the idea that contemporary greens sometimes refer to as Gaia.
Yet Wulf, rather than drawing out its significance, more or less asserts that this is a foundational idea for green thinking. She fails to point out that the claim that humans are merely part of nature, rather than playing a special role, is a key element of anti-humanism. From a green perspective, it is reasonable to see humans as fundamentally on a par with any other animal. Indeed, from this vantage point, humans can be seen as worse than any other animal as they are viewed as destroying the world’s natural balance. In this way, the idea that humans are simply a part of nature is just another way of arguing that humans should respect natural limits.
As it happens, Humboldt himself was an empiricist rather than someone with a broader interest in philosophical issues. His Naturgemälde was simply an attempt to describe nature as he saw it. Unlike Malthus, he did not draw out any overt political views from his conception of nature. Wulf is essentially reading history backwards when she classifies Humboldt as a green thinker.
This unfortunate tendency of projecting the present on to the past is also apparent in the several references she makes to climate change. She may be right in arguing that Humboldt was the first scientist to recognise that humans can alter the climate. However, this claim shows that she fails to recognise what is distinctive about the contemporary debate. Even most of those derided today as ‘climate deniers’ would accept that human action can modify the climate. The distinctive feature of the current green orthodoxy is that it contends that a rapacious humanity is laying the ground for catastrophic climate change. It overestimates the extent to which humans cause problems and underestimates our capacity to devise solutions.
The Invention of Nature therefore works as a fascinating biography, but it is a total failure in its second stated goal of exploring how humans understand the natural world. It is a misguided attempt to rewrite the history of green thinking with the adventurer and scientist Humboldt as its founder. It fails to understand what is distinctive about green thinking or appreciate that its intellectual antecedents predate Humboldt.
The multi-authored Ecomodernist Manifesto represents an alternative attempt to put a positive spin on environmentalism. Its writers concede that economic progress has brought enormous benefits, but contend that it is right to hold on to an environmentalist ideal.
To maintain this position, they essentially split the idea of natural limits in two. They argue that humans should reduce their impact on nature, but they do not need to live in harmony with it: ‘We affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonise with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse.’
It is hard to see how such a position is tenable. Economic and social progress depend precisely on humanity increasing its impact on nature. We need to enhance our control over the natural world, rather than step back from it. Hunger, disease and even straightforward scarcity still present formidable challenges. Even tackling climate change, to the extent it is a problem, will demand enhancing the technological powers of humanity, not scaling back.
The Ecomodernist Manifesto’s writers attempt to square this circle by advocating what they call a ‘decoupling’ of human development from environmental impacts. That means allowing humans to flourish, while protecting nature at the same time. But couching the arguments in this way blurs a key distinction. It may be that humans decide, for example, that they want to leave some of the planet as wilderness. But that should be on the basis of what is in the interests of humanity, rather than a belief in the need to respect natural limits.
By couching the manifesto in such pragmatic terms the authors manage to avoid the overt miserablism of much green thinking. However, there are clear signs that anxiety about economic progress is lurking not far beneath the surface. For example, the manifesto talks of the need to bolster resource productivity – the efficiency with which raw materials are harnessed – but it avoids any mention of labour productivity. Yet it is labour productivity – the amount that can be produced for each hour or day of human labour – that is key to economic progress. To abolish scarcity on a global scale – in other words, to make everyone affluent – would require a huge boost to average levels of labour productivity.
A related problem is indicated by the references to alleviating poverty. At first sight, this seems unobjectionable. Who could be against such a goal? But the manifesto focuses on reducing the most extreme forms of material deprivation and, by implication, eschews the goal of prosperity for all.
Ecomodernism cannot work as a coherent vision because green thinking is fundamentally opposed to modernity. A truly modern vision has to be based around the needs of humanity. It makes no sense to talk about the planet – which, when it comes down to it, is basically just a lump of rock – as if it has its own independent interests. The planet is not, and cannot, be a conscious being.
The ecomodernists are simply trying to give green thinking a makeover. They are playing down its anti-human premises and blurring its negative consequences. They are repackaging a miserablist and misanthropic outlook in a bid to make it seem palatable.
Now, more than ever, it is important to insist on a humanist conception of the relationship between man and nature This means insisting that humans should not constrain their ambition and creativity for the sake of the natural world. On the contrary, we owe the enormous gains we have made to our success in bolstering our control over nature. If anything, we need to take this process even further, rather than scaling back.
Perhaps it is also time to rehabilitate the reputation of Francis Bacon and his immense contribution to modernity. Without his insight, that humans should strive to dominate nature, we would all be far worse off.
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
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Posted by JR at 1:40 AM