Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Escaping the Saudi Cell

Politicians are now engaged in an eco-auction, a green arms race. At the same time, the Channel 4 documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, will have convinced many that the whole thing is, indeed, a swindle and, for politicians, an excuse to exert power and raise taxes. Great Guido, meanwhile, is evidently bewitched by Sian Berry, the Green Party spokesman, but recovers his composure sufficiently to insist that the whole extreme green agenda is 'anti-capitalist, anti-human'. Guido is right to detect malign forces at work within greenery. In my own article on 4X4s, I made the point that class hatred and sexism were, at least in part, driving the campaigners. And, I would add, sheer priggishness, from which, I am afraid, the lovely Sian suffers. The substantial issue, however, is whether we are making the planet uninhabitable for humans. In spite of my own scepticism of many of the claims of contemporary science, I think we are for one reason. James Lovelock is a friend of mine. Jim is a scientist and, temperamentally, a poet. He is dazzlingly brilliant and, if any eco-sceptic were to spend half an hour with him, they would be, like me, persuaded. But two further points need to be made. It is neither anti-human nor anti-capitalist to point out, irrespective of the science of global warming, that we are wrecking the planet. There are too many people with too much power to destroy. Secondly, real conservatives should and often do embrace environmentalism but I cannot understand why right-wing libertarians and neocons do not do the same. Drastically cutting our dependence on Middle Eastern oil would be a colossal strategic gain, achieving more than the US military can ever hope to do. Defending the burning of oil as some kind of freedom - as libertarians and neocons often do - is simply stupid since it does no more than lock us in a Saudi cell, a comfortable one but a cell nonetheless.


  1. In fact, it now occurs to me that the green injuncton to'think global, act local' may be at fault here. Acting locally opens the door to all kids of priggery and, anyway, the big issues can only be addressed globally.

  2. I fully agree that it is in the West's interests to decrease its dependency on oil. But otherwise, how can you address issues globally? What does it actually mean in practice?

    One of the more damning claims made in The Great Global Warming Swindle was that environmentalists (presumably thinking they are taking a 'global' approach) want to refuse to allow Africa to exploit its coal and oil resources - thus denying Africans the chance to enjoy a basic quality of life that westerners take for granted. And all on the basis of what is still highly controversial and speculative science (or, if you believe the Swindle programme, plain wrong science).

  3. It was one of your articles in the Sunday Times (autumn 2005) that put me on to Peak Oil - one of the implications of which is that the Saudi cell which is presently so comfortable is about to change into the garbage compactor from the Death Star (have a looksie here for the raw data. It's quite compelling.)

  4. You make some very good points here Bryan. Oddly enough I stood behind Nigel Lawson the morning after the programme as I bought vegetables. He seemed pleased with his contribution, so I weas pleased too. I thought the programme was fascinating, in comparison with the usual rubbish about inspecting people's shit or holiday homes (merits/perils of), but I was worried to be told that the MIT contributor is saying his remarks were taken totally out of context. Still, it did lift a corner of the lid on the scientific research grant racket.
    Also agree that the US conservative/Saudi connection is extraordinary. What is it about? Guns, horses, falcons, extreme wealth? Most of which goes into conspicuous consumption- flying in herds of sheep to be served on yatchs moored off Malaga or Monaco, or to finance madrassas in Pakistan (or London). In addition to building nuclear power plants, the US should divert a fraction of its military budget to equipping Pakistan with a decent secular primary school system. But these are random dark thoughts on a lovely spring day.

  5. I would define 'anti-humanism' as any view that the actual human beings alive on this planet at the moment are getting in the way of something more important.

  6. Bryan,
    You've lost me here. In my experience, the reason most people can't stand 4x4s is the fact that their size encourages owners to drive badly. I've lost count of the number of times I've cycled around a corner and then been confronted by some monstrosity halfway across the wrong side of the road. And when I'm driving, I find the same cars blocking my view at junctions. If 4x4s gave out no emissions at all, I'd still hate seeing them in towns and cities. In the right setting there's no problem at all.

  7. "...opens the door to all kids of priggery"? Name them, shame them: my puny contribution to the green debate.

    But, more seriously, no one's going to like what needs to be done to prevent the destruction of our environment and I'm deeply skeptical that enough will be done. It can be done, but it won't be, because there are too many vested interests in it not being done. This "New" Labour government, for whom I did not vote, is one of the most venal, corrupt and self-serving ever, but only symptomatic of the times in which we live. Alas, the alternatives are no better. The world has been quietly going to hell in a handcart for some while, but we're turning up the volume...

  8. Just because things are bad now, it doesn't follow that they were better before.

    Indeed, they were worse in practically every way.

    It is true however, that people turn up the volume as they get older and that this creates an appalling whining noise.

  9. Interesting documentary, (although somewhat repetitive). I've always said the planet is warming naturally, what with volcanoes, flatulent cows et al. But I still believe we're speeding up the process. More importantly the issue is not only the global 'warming', when one considers our health. We breathe in so much rubbish its worrying. An enjoyable programme and a good argument, but It was an excuse to carry on regardless.

  10. Are we wrecking the planet? According to Bjorn Lomborg, probably not although yes, there are localised problems in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa. Western countries and those on the up-and-up are becoming cleaner than they were decades ago.

    I'm not sure how much of a strategic gain would be garnered from independence from ME oil.

    Oil's about the only thing the ME has to offer and Western economies are a lot less dependent on it than they used to be. Hence, maximum leverage. Even Chavez for all his rhetoric, keeps on shipping oil to the West. A pound more spent on energy that needn't have been means a pound less that could have been used elsewhere.

    Renewable energy simply isn't going to be a replacement for fossil fuels in the next couple of decades. Nuclear is problematic because of concerns over safety and waste disposal. Natural gas means becoming dependent on countries like Russia, Algeria, Qatar and Central Asia.

    Right-wingers tend to be skeptical of environmentalism because of its' reliance on alarmism, frequent abuse of science for political ends and the suspicion that it's become the new religion for anti-capitalists.

    Finally given all the abuse the Earth has taken for the past billion years, our effects on it are barely a pinprick. It's possible we may wipe ourselves out but the globe will keep on blithely spinning until the solar system goes kablooey.

  11. Playing devil's advocate, Bryan, does cutting dependence on Middle Eastern oil necessarily offer a long-term strategic gain?

    If the OECD countries stopped buying Middle Eastern oil, then Middle Eastern countries would become less affluent, and decreasing affluence could well radicalise a number of those countries in the region which are currently politically neutral. Saudia Arabia, in particular, rests in a finely poised balance between its modernising tendencies and its Islamic theocrats. A large proportion of the Saudi population is young and unemployed, and could be easily radicalised. The last thing we want to do is to produce yet more regions of 'poorly governed space'.

    Perhaps the strategic gain we would obtain from a decreasing dependence upon Middle Eastern oil is to have a choice over how we subsidise and influence the Middle East. However, as the current US government currently believe, the most feasible way to reduce dependence in the next couple of decades is to develop biofuels. And I don't believe Mr Lovelock is a fan of these...

  12. River of deceitMarch 13, 2007 6:42 pm

    While overpopulation is an obvious problem, you can't help but notice a sinister vibe underneath the green exterior. A certain coldness.
    If you want to consider 'Earth first' it doesn't make alot of sense. As john gray( a darling of the greens) points out:

    "Nor can humans chronically infect their host. The biosphere is older and stronger than they will ever be. As Margulis writes, 'No human culture, despite its inventiveness, can kill life on this planet, were it even to try.'

    " ...if the human plague is really as normal as it looks, then the collapse curve should mirror the population growth curve. This means that the bulk of collapse will not take much more than one hundred years, and by the year 2150 the biosphere should be safely back to its preplague population of Homo sapiens—somewhere between 0.5 and 1 billion."

    In fact, worryingly, it might happen sooner. Matt simmons who wrote "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy 2005", recently stated that oil peak has already happened and oil is seriously undervalued-it's real price could be as high as $300 a barrel.
    For the earth this is great news. But it will mean alot of misery and death for billions, including us.
    Acording to james kunstler all oil based economies will collapse within the next 5-10 years. Ironically primitive cultures will fair better because they've never adapted to the oil economy. They don't have their food flown in from thousands of miles away. They also have common sense knowledge that our culture has completely forgotton-building a house, making clothes, growing food etc.