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How climate converted the greens to the argument from authority

Walter Russell Mead has a powerful essay in the American Interest online
about how the environmental movement suddenly turned into the
establishment. Have you noticed the irony of being told to shut up
and trust the experts by the likes of Greenpeace? Nothing is quite
so amusing about the modern environmental movement as its sudden
volte-face on the argument from authority: from `don’t believe the
experts’ to `do as you are told’.

I suppose one should not be surprised. Every movement, from
Christianity to Bolshevism, had the same transformation. How the
church went from being a radical insurgent organization that gave a
voice to the poor to one that insisted on papal infallibility
without a backward glance always struck me as entertaining.

Mead argues that the entire environmental movement was founded
on not trusting experts:

An increasingly skeptical public
started to notice that ‘experts’ weren’t angels descending
immaculately from heaven bearing infallible revelations from
God.  They were fallible human beings with mortgages to pay
and funds to raise. They disagreed with one another and they
colluded with their friends and supporters like everyone else. They
often produced research that agreed with the views of those who
funded their work (tobacco companies, builders of nuclear power
plants, NGOs and foundations).

Whereas now:

When it comes to climate change,
the environmental movement has gotten itself on the wrong side of
doubt. It has become the voice of the establishment, of the
tenured, of the technocrats. It proposes big economic and
social interventions and denies that unintended consequences and
new information could vitiate the power of its
recommendations.  It knows what is good for us, and its
knowledge is backed up by the awesome power and majesty of the
peer-review process. The political, cultural, business and
scientific establishments stand firmly behind global warming today
– just as they once stood firmly behind Robert Moses, urban
renewal, and big dams.

They tell us it’s a sin to
question the consensus, the sign of bad moral character to

Bambi, look in the mirror. 
You will see Godzilla looking back.

Back in the 1970s, I hugely enjoyed the novel The Monkey Wrench
Gang by the eco-activist Edward Abbey. In that book, four unlikely
comrades come together in a common cause – to blow up billboards,
sabotage bulldozers and destroy dams to save nature. If you were to
rewrite that book today (and I have to admit I am tempted) the
comrades will be blowing up wind turbines, sabotaging biofuel
plants and putting up placards at organic farms about their
wasteful use of land.

In my book I argue that expertise, innovation and intelligence
are bottom-up phenomena, dispersed through society and shared among
many brains. The `cloud’ is only the latest and strongest example
of this. The top-down environmental establishment is on the wrong
side of history.



By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist