Thursday 31 July 2008

Heretical thoughts...

When you read a story like this, does it give you hope - or does it make your heart sink?

A liquid fuel made from plants that is chemically identical to crude oil but which does not contribute to climate change when it is burned or, unlike other biofuels, need agricultural land to produce sounds too good to be true. But a company in San Diego claims to have developed exactly that – a sustainable version of oil it calls "green crude"...
For the purposes of argument, let's suspend scepticism about journalistic hype - and imagine that a technical breakthrough could allow us to continue living today's lifestyles at a "sustainable" level of CO2 emissions.

Frankly, such a prospect makes my heart sink - in a way which could only confirm the worst suspicions held by the likes of Spiked Online about the Green movement and its hidden agendas. There's a kind of truth in those suspicions: environmentalism that justifies itself in terms of scientific necessity is often underpinned by deeper convictions about the unsatisfactoriness of our ways of living.

It would be better if more of us were clear about such convictions. If we don't make the argument, we will find ourselves hostages to a version of "sustainability" which insists on attempting to sustain our current way of living at all costs. Among those costs may be:

  • The cost of going down in flames, because it turns out that this way of living couldn't be sustained - when we might have found other ways of living.
  • In the event that serious action at national and international level does achieve massive emissions reductions, the cost to our freedom of state-controlled attempts to maximise economic productivity within ecological limits.
  • Finally, in the unlikely event that a technical breakthrough saves the day, the cost of the lesson not learned. Even if we could "fix" climate change, without a change to our approach to our surroundings and our activities, we would sooner or later hit up against an even more intractable problem.
Is the answer to stop talking about climate change - and talk instead about the deeper political and ethical problems with our ways of living?

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