Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Conservative Conservationist

Two things caught my eye today.

First the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) issued its response to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s consultation on the Green Deal, highlighting key omissions and inconsistencies in the document.

The Government’s Green Deal aims to reduce carbon emissions cost effectively by revolutionising the energy efficiency of British properties, but has been criticised by the Committee on Climate Change as being unlikely to deliver this objective. The Government’s own impact assessment has also confirmed that the rate of energy efficiency improvement will be less than 25% than is currently being achieved – in other words the proposed policy change will reduce policy effectiveness, not improve it. More …

Subsidising energy supply, but not energy efficiency improvement makes no sense.
Indeed. So I am asking myself why is it that the “greenest government ever” is having such difficulty in actually doing what it said on the tin when we bought it in May 2010? Well, the answer could be in Caroline Lucas’ review of a book by Roger Scruton titled "Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet". Some extracts …

With the Tory leadership distancing itself from the environmental agenda it had courted so keenly before the last election, and the Coalition government dangerously divided over green policies, philosopher Roger Scruton's thoughtful study on environmentalism in the conservative tradition arrives at a timely moment. Acknowledging that the environment is the most urgent political problem of our age – an intellectual step that already takes him beyond most Conservatives – the author, who is both a conservative and a conservationist, seeks to reclaim it from the clutches of the left.

Overflowing with references to history, philosophy, art, cultural theory, literature and law, Green Philosophy is beautifully written and ambitious in its scope. But it is also curiously old-fashioned, unashamedly tribal and deeply contradictory. Scruton himself admits that his approach is "more philosophical than practical" – and many of his lines of inquiry simply take the reader around in circles.

Having failed to resolve this ambiguity, [climate change needs global action] the philosopher goes on to rage against the negative consequences of state-imposed bureaucracies, "bad regulation" and of the dominance of NGOs. While he does chide conservatives for failing to address the obvious fact that environmental "stewardship" does not come easily to multinational companies that have "no civic tie to the countries they operate in", he continues to champion the free market as the lesser evil – and lets big business off the hook.

This exposes the contradiction at the heart of conservative approach to the environment: the desire to promote free enterprise and a smaller state imposing minimal regulation, while also seeking to conserve natural heritage. Recent policy disasters such as the proposed reform of the planning system and the selling-off of the forests have shown the Tory-led Government grappling with this conflict.

In this context, it's even more difficult to accept Scruton's claim that "conservatism and environmentalism are natural bedfellows". The truth is that Scruton can't decide how much state action is too much. He agrees that the resources of government are needed to address problems like climate change, oil spills, plastic pollution, and the loss of bio-diversity. He also believes in the "fundamental moral idea" that those responsible for damage should repair it, and supports such progressive measures as carbon taxes and emissions-limiting legislation.

I couldn't agree more, but how he reconciles this kind of large-scale intervention with his beloved small-state conservatism is anyone's guess.
So there you have it. It’s all down to Cognitive Dissonance or as it is sometimes known Doublethink. And I suspect the same conclusion with "Socialist environmentalism" but I can't quite pin down who the socialists are these days ...

Read the whole review here.


  1. I suspect she confuses the Tories with conservatives. They sometimes resemble - but are often not the same as - each other. Conservatives - but not Tories - don't necessarily believe in 'big' government or 'small' government but, simply, appropriate government.

    True, what's 'appropriate' is a judgement but some Tories' fascination with the size of the state whilst their Party presides over the UK's absorption into the most totalitarian Big State/Small Society arrangement imaginable - the EU - would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic.

    Nature - especially in the form of landscape - resonates powerfully with humans because the unbuilt and untouched environment is our ancestral home. The endless destruction of it is, then, a category of crime against humanity.

    Increasing population and increasing production - linked phenomena since each makes the other more likely - lead inevitably to the increased consumption of nature.

    When, as is eventually likely to be the case, the entire adult population of the world - all those billions of people - wants its own car, refridgerator, iPad, widescreen tv, deodorant, disposable nappies, cool trainers and ready-made meal where will we find the materials to produce this?

    And what will we do with the waste that every single one of these items produces?

    We haven't got a clue. And nor does Caroline Lucas' Green Party whose primary aims appear to be the creation of a socialist nightmare for the UK - one which will do nothing to halt the use of nature as a commodity and which will probably increase its exploition as they are forced (as was New Labour) to use that enagine of wealth creation - capitalism - to generate the cash to pay for their insane policies.

    1. Always a pleasure to hear from you Gary, could you not sleep?

      Caroline Lucas does indeed describe herself as an “anti-Capitalist” (as do quite a lot of Green activists) but I’m not sure that makes her (or them) socialists.

      I recall a blog debate some years ago on the question “is the Green Party anti-Capitalist”. There were lots of activists saying yes but then Darren Johnson (the London Assembly member) popped up and pointed out that if it is then the Manifesto and Philosophical Basis of the party would have to be completely re-written.

    2. With you completely, Gary, even if B21 is not. The great void in politics from my point of view is realism and practicality.

    3. Realism, practicality and pragmatism were once the hallmark of the Conservative Party. That's why the Green Party, formerly the Ecology Party, was set up by disillusioned conservatives.

      Some say it has been hijacked by the "left" since, and if so, that is mainly the fault of its armchair members.

  2. Thanks B21 - and I had just got home having had a beer or two with a friend. So I was dog tired and half-cut when I wrote my note!

    I concluded Ms Lucas was a socialist during the last election when I looked at her web-site and watched a couple of her interviews. But she might say she's a 'social democrat' and I wouldn't argue with her.

    Looking at her site what's surprising is how little mention there is of environmental issues. I'm sure she doesn't want to be seen as a one-trick pony but I wonder what her solutions are for a world whose population is increasing rapidly - and whose consumption power is increasing with it.

    The uncomfortable truth seems to be that you either halt population growth or restrict consumption. Who's going to say that out loud though? Thinking that technology alone will forever get us out of this conundrum seems implausible to me. Windmills and home insulation is all very well but it's a drop in the ocean compared to what's to come. A credible response has necessarily to be a rather harsh one.

    She suggests small-state conservatism is beloved of Roger Scruton but I strongly suspect he simply opposes state spending that intrudes in the private sphere (often with the force of law/human rights legislation behind it) as opposed to opposing state spending itself.

    1. Yup! Population is the Elephant in the room taboo subject.

    2. Over-population is largely the result of over-copulation.

  3. Morris and Gary,

    Here's a blog post that might stir your respective cerebral juices ...

    Politicians vs Representative Democracy

  4. Thanks for the link Weggis.

    That councillor perhaps favours benign dictatorship. Not my cup of char but also not without its merits. Conscientious, well-meaning councillors don't always get a grip on the ins and outs of things - the public stands even less chance since they rarely read all the documents and attend all the meetings.

    Just done the Valentines 5k parkrun. Going to find somewhere to pass out now...

  5. I have to confess to being somewhat confused these days by many pronouncements from politicians whose activities are north of the Wall. The particular lady seems to be somewhere between considerable naivety and outright arrogance.

    I always found that I might have an initial view on an issue that could either change in some degree when listening to the views of others, or thereby be firmed up as reasonable. I always maintained that my opponents never had a monopoly on either ignorance or false perception, and that the party of which I was an adherent had equally no monopoly on wisdom or correctness.

  6. Interesting to see the recent (mainly) Conservative revolt against overpriced windmills

    Not so Labour, it seems - Caroline Flint said:
    "Britain should be a world leader in wind energy ..."

    So let's see ...

    Total demand @ 1630: 53.17GW
    Wind output @ 1630: 0.033GW

    So, a mere 0.06% of demand being provided by these magic devices. It isn't because we haven't got many of them - total metered capacity is a tad over 4GW - of which 99.2% is producing naff all ...

    We're even generating nearly half a Gigawatt from the quaintly named 'Other' sources - diesel generators and the like. Perhaps this is a trial run - last week we were using both oil and the most inefficient Open Cycle Gas Turbines (as opposed to Closed Cycle, which typically supply 30 - 35% of our needs).

    Still, I suppose that by comparison with the cost of the windmills, these very expensive - use only in case of dire emergency - sources must look quite cheap ...

    If you want to see how things are progressing for yourself, take a look at

    For one man's solo effort to present the maximum amount of information in an easy to read format on a single page, it is excellent - I do so like those vintage Smiths Industries meters!

    If you want to delve deeper, this is where he gets his source data from

    1. The wind turbines are obviously in the wrong place ....

    2. The windbag promoting wind turbines has resigned.

  7. B21 said The wind turbines are obviously in the wrong place ....

    Well, north Norway wouldn't have been a bad place tonight but you'd be best to move them to Cyprus/Turkey if you want them working on Tuesday ...

    Plan the next move here ...

    1. The solution is obviously mobile wind turbines ...

    2. Quite, B21, you put wheels on them, with some kind of steering device, and when the wind blows, it would move them - are we on to something here? (Or just 'on' something???)