Leftwing scepticism

It was not only those on the right-hand end of the ideological spectrum who saw environmentalism as a political threat. From the 1970s some small groups on the far left derided the rise of environmentalism as a middle-class fad that was a distraction from the true causes of poverty and exploitation. Even among traditional social welfare organisations and centre-left parties environmentalism was often resented because, more glamorous than homelessness and wage disputes, it drew the oxygen away from traditional progressive concerns. Among those who scorned environmentalism was a Trotskyist splinter group in the United Kingdom known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. In the 1990s the RCP published a controversialist journal titled Living Marxism (later LM Magazine) that frequently ran bitter attacks on environmentalism, describing it as a middle-class indulgence and a neo-colonial smokescreen. Repudiating the environmentalism of Dixie Lee Ray's mythical International Socialist Party, the Marxist journal carried articles with titles like 'Red and green won't go', 'Animals have no rights' and 'Environmental imperialism'. The successor to LM lives on in cyberspace in the form of Spiked, a lively online mix of ultra-libertarianism and 'left-wing' opinion, much of it devoted to attacking what its editor calls 'the ugly elitism and end-of-days mania of the environmentalist movement'.52 (For aficionados of the left, Spiked hints at its Trotskyist origins by claiming in its 'tongue-in-cheek' blurb that it would be endorsed by Marx but hated by Stalin.)

The initial intellectual force behind the RCP was British academic Frank Furedi (who earlier wrote under the pseudonym Frank Richards), now a professor of sociology at the University of Kent and frequent contributor to Spiked. Furedi has written a number of books that explore and denounce the excessive emphasis in Western societies on risk and danger, suggesting that Westerners have become oversensitive to small risks and are prone to overreact to threats such as global warming, which he describes as a 'moral crusade' against humanity. In a reprise of Dixie Lee Ray, Furedi cleaves to the first principle of modernism, that it is the duty of humans to control the Earth: 'Instead of bowing to the divine authority of the planet, we ought to uphold the age-long project of humanising the planet.'53 In doing so he abandons the second principle of modernism, an absolute faith in science.54

This background is germane because activists associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party were responsible for the 2007 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle. Initially given the working title Apocalypse My Arse, the film describes the idea of man-made climate change as 'a lie . . . the biggest scam of modern times'.55 It was directed by Martin Durkin, whose links with leaders of the RCP go back many years. Immediately after it was broadcast, Spiked editor Brendan O'Neill wrote a vigorous defense of Durkin and Swindle, an endorsement of the film's anti-environmental claims veiled by appeals to the right to dissent.56 A few years earlier, Durkin had made an equally inflammatory documentary called Against Nature which, according to the publicity material, characterised 'environmentalist ideology as unscientific, irrational and anti-humanist'.57 It created a furore after it was broadcast in Britain, not least for its extraordinary claims that modern environmentalism has its roots in Nazi Germany (Hitler was a vegetarian—get it?) and that self-interested environmentalists are responsible for enormous suffering in the Third World. It combined images of Third World children dying of horrible illnesses with commentary on how environmentalists oppose dams that would bring clean water and electricity, portraying them as callous fanatics.

Although criticised by media regulators for its devious editorial devices and attacked by bodies such as the Royal Society for its crude distortion of scientific facts, Swindle was lauded by sceptics groups around the world—like Against Nature, it did after all feature some of denialism's most prominent names.58 It is not the first time that those representing 'workers' and 'capitalists' have united to defend their common worldview, including periodic alliances between trade unions and business organisations formed to head off or water down greenhouse gas abatement policies. The accord between some elements of the far left and far right is grounded in their shared beliefs in the priority of material consumption in human wellbeing, their defence of human domination of nature, and their anti-authoritarian commitment to individual rights. While conservatives saw environmentalism as a threat to capitalism and the American way of life, some on the far left saw environmentalism as a threat to their objective of overthrowing capitalism because it was a distraction from the main game. Speaking on behalf of the forgotten working class, Spiked editor Brendan O'Neill wrote that the environmental elites 'cannot comprehend, indeed are "baffled" by, our everyday behaviour, our desire to have families, our resistance to hectoring, our dream of being wealthier, better travelled, our hopes of living life to the full'.59 Swindle traced the origins of global warming science to Margaret Thatcher's attacks on the working class, viz. her desire to destroy the British mining unions by promoting nuclear power in place of coal. Needing a reason to deprecate coal, the prime minister invested public funds in global warming science and the scientists dutifully responded by coming up with the evidence.

As if the political alignments caused by global warming were not already weird enough, the conservative counter-movement has implicitly allied itself with the post-modern challenge to the idea of truth advanced by mainly French, post-structuralist intel-lectuals.60 Neo-conservatives have for years fulminated against the influence of post-modernism in university campuses and schools, with its pernicious promotion of 'moral relativism'. They see themselves as defending objective truth after decades of leftist challenge to the Western canon. Yet in the case of climate change the conservative counter-movement has actively promoted those who challenge the established science. Sceptical commentators like Charles Krauthammer in the United States, Melanie Phillips in Britain,61 Mark Steyn in Canada and Michael Duffy in Australia not only dismiss the science but repeatedly attempt to 'deconstruct' the motives of the scientists who carry it out.62 They are always on the lookout for biases and prejudices that could lie behind the scientific facts on global warming, explaining away the vast accumulation of evidence by impugning the motives of those who collect it. In their view, scientific truth is malleable, contingent and contestable. Like the creationists who believe that victory requires them to destroy the theory of evolution, they promote a form of anti-scientific fundamentalism that has less regard for scientific method than the most committed constructivist on any university campus. Modernism now finds itself under siege from both the dwindling band of academic post-modernists and resurgent neo-conservatives. Both reject the claims of science to objective truth. For the former the truth of modernism was socially constructed and the real truth is always contestable; the latter never accepted the elevation of matters of fact over matters of belief. For the sceptics and their patrons loyalty to belief is paramount and every piece of evidence that challenges their convictions represents a threat to their worldview and must be destroyed.

It is for this reason that climate sceptics are not true sceptics, that is, those who suspend credulity in order to subject accepted beliefs to rigorous questioning. Climate sceptics do not carefully assess the claims of climate science in order to establish those that are credible and those that are not. They reject all claims of climate science and search for reasons to justify their rejection. Thus in 2009 Australian 'sceptic' and geologist Ian Plimer published a book, Heaven and Earth, which he claimed would 'knock out every single argument we hear about climate change'.63 It would not cast doubt on some aspects of global warming science, or focus attention on the uncertainties, it would disprove every piece of evidence generated by hundreds of scientists over the last twenty or more years in support of human-induced climate change. This is not so much the agnosticism of the sceptic but the zealotry of the fanatic who believes himself to possess the Truth.

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