You think you're discussing technologies, and you quickly discover that you're discussing belief systems. The battle among environmentalists over how or whether our future energy is supplied is a cipher for something much bigger: who we are, who we want to be, how we want society to evolve. Beside these concerns, technical matters – parts per million, costs per megawatt hour, cancers per sievert – carry little weight. We choose our technology – or absence of technology – according to a set of deep beliefs: beliefs that in some cases remain unexamined.That's the opening; the rest of the article goes step by step through the flinching from an honest assessment of consequences that the green movement has been doing. It's quite something to see, since this comes from Monbiot himself, and not from some evil neo-con Rethuglian Denier troll like your humble host.*
The case against abandoning nuclear power, for example, is a simple one: it will be replaced either by fossil fuels or by renewables that would otherwise have replaced fossil fuels. In either circumstance, greenhouse gases, other forms of destruction and human deaths and injuries all rise.
Monbiot is pretty brutal with his assessment, closing out that the movement is stuck in a hopeless pit of FAIL:
All of us in the environment movement, in other words – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order.It is indeed. But it's a danged good start for some folks that have been in desperate need of some self-criticism for a good long time. I Want A New Left examines this as the critical factor in getting the Left unwedged, but one that needs to be applied much more broadly than just environmentalism:
More generally, leftism’s general goals these days are very confused. Leftism wants to promote the ideals of feminism and gay liberation as absolutes, and at the same time it promotes cultural relativism. This has led to the strange and confused situation we have today, in which the left wants to empower Muslim immigrants, but ignores the fact that some are extremely sexist, homophobic, and anti-secular.More magical thinking on display. It springs from really quite astonishing blinders:
All of this confusion, it seems to me, has been caused by the expansion of goals that occurred during the Sixties, prior to which the left’s main goal was simply to help the workers. But even within that less-confused framework, we can raise some critical questions: What if America or something similar is the best that can be done for the poor? What if any attempt to make things significantly better for the poor will actually make things much, much worse? What if the constant criticisms of America’s “imperialist” foreign policies will not make the world any better but will actually, by weakening the world's de facto policeman, enable the rise of much more vicious imperialists, or if not that, then the revival of the slave trade?Nobody accused John Kenneth Galbraith of this sort of sloppy thinking. But over the course of the last 50 years, intellectual rigor has faded from the Left, as they became entrenched in the Academy and the Media. Suppression of opposing views became the preferred tactic; once the reins of power were in their hands, it was just plain easier to use that power to squelch uncomfortable debate. The President of Harvard wonders if gender-based differences were hard-coded into humanity, leading to men having some advantage in fields like Mathematics and Sciences? Fire him.
Leftists who say they question everything seldom do; there are plenty of questions they don’t want to ask.
A half century of quick, easy, and tactical victories like that have led to a Left that doesn't question their own premises, or who become purged if they do (see the sorry example of Christopher Hitchens and The Nation). As a result, conservative intellectuals have much better arguments these days. You see quite a number of those conservative intellectuals who grew up as radical leftists. You don't ever see the opposite any more.
This intellectual laziness makes for a comfortable time in the Faculty Lounge, but has disastrous consequences. Today we see an Administration largely populated by Academics, not business people. Their performance has been what you'd expect - long on talk and short on results.
We need an intellectually vigorous left, one that is grounded in reality instead of magical thinking. One that is more subtle and nuanced than the current set of people who seem to think that if they like a particular proposal, that proposal can't have any negative consequences. One who takes a cold, hard look at their own assumptions, and doesn't flinch from what they see.