One of the biggest dilemmas for environmental realists is striking the right balance between the potential infringement of human rights required to power down to a more sustainable society on one hand, and the inevitable threat to human rights if we don't take action now. Let's call this the human rights dilemma. One solution is simply to deny the relevance of the coming environmental collapse by idealising a variant form of cornucopia, believing everything would be okay if we just wrested power from the corporate-military elite and brought about a new world order founded on the principles of liberty, fraternity and egalitarianism, extending the ideals of the French revolution to all 6.5 billion citizens alive today and making room for the 9 billion plus expected to grace our humble planet by 2050. Wouldn't it be wonderful if billions more could enjoy the North American way of life with sprawling verdant suburbs, neat bungalows with double garages and private swimming pools populated by shiny happy citizens. Sadly such a reality is just a fantasy promoted by soap operas, incessant but often subtle advertising and peer pressure, but it's the ideal to which billions of our fellow world citizens aspire. The endless, but usually fruitless, pursuit of consumertopia is, as amply documented in Oliver James' excellent book Affluenza, the cause of much distress. Many teenagers in affluent countries acquie a deep sense of inferiority because they lack the kind of consumer gadgets their peers have or because they fail to emulate the cooldom and aesthetic perfection of media role models. Worse still the exponential rise in aggregate consumption by our species is ultimately suicidal, not just for indviduals but the vast majority of our fellow human beings. When nature begins to take its course, with its periodic natural distasters affecting ever greater numbers of people, you can bet the poorest and most vulnerable will always be the first to go.
The trendy left has long believed they can metaphorically have their cake and eat it. We can somehow let newcomers to our land join our consumer frenzy and cut carbon emissions. We can somehow guarantee everyone affordable transport, cheap food, free healthcare and an extensive welfare state and reduce collective consumption. We can incredibly subsidise single parents and unwanted babies and simultaneously guarantee every child love, affection and ggod education. Such idealists live, pardon my French, in cloud cuckoo land. We can obviously only welcome newcomers to our land if our environment and economy can sustain their presence. Likewise we can only provide transport, food, healthcare and social benefits if we can sustainably maintain the material means required. We can only subsidise unwanted children by spending billions on social workers, childcare professionals and state benefits, diverting resources from other needy categories, e.g. a child in council care can cost a UK council as much as £90,000 a year and in all likelihood will continue to be a burden on public finances later in life. A prevailing culture of hedonism and entitlements has created a situation in the UK where over 2 million adults live on incapacity benefit not because they suffer from a severe sensory or physical impairment, but because of essentially psychological problems brought on by social marginalisation and self-destroying indulgence in drugs and booze, whether legal or illegal.
As a result the country has recently attracted over a million newcomers from Eastern Europe to do jobs in the catering, building, transport and agricultural sectors that home-grown Britons used to do. The Polish plumber phenomenon has affected not just the bustling overcrowded metropolis of London, but has spread far and wide to areas with high indigenous unemployment. Some businesses like Subway and Starbucks have actively recruited new migrants and then sent them to their outlets the length and breadth of the land. In just 4 years we have learned to expect to be served by recent economic migrants and hardly blink an eyelid when outside we see another home-bred homeless islander selling the Big Issue or another alcoholic beggar pestering us for loose change. So why does the Big Issue seller not take up plumbing and why does the beggar not get a job in Starbucks, CaffÃ¨ Nero or Costa Coffee? The sad truth is that too much hard work is required to learn the tricks of the trade required by competent plumbers and most native Brits on benefits would not be much better off on the minimum wage. Worse still most customers would rather be served by polite, attractive and smiling Eastern European staff in their early twenties than emotionally insecure and often incompetent members of Britain's underclass of non-productive long-term benefit claimants. The corporate-state behemoth has effectively dumbed down the former working class, while importing a steady flow of smarter and keener migrant workers from countries where young people are still motivated to learn the hard skills any viable society needs. To cap it all, I've even witnessed migrant care workers looking after mentally ill indigenous citizens. Such is the shortage of competent maths teachers willing to endure the stress of British secondary schools that increasingly education authorities resort to importing human resources from countries where an interest in the abstract science of numbers is still cool. Meanwhile indigenous teachers are deserting the profession in their droves, intimidated not only by children unruly behaviour but by a culture of fear, litigation, lack of respect and celebrity worship. The government talks tough on combatting the perceived threats of terrorism, street crime and illegal immigration, softening public opposition to draconian surveillance state legislation, but has actually created a hypercompetitive labour market with a large reservoir of disgruntled and alienated workers, desperately seeking a piece of the action. The net result is a brain drain in countries of net emigration and growing dependence on the tentacles of corporate grandeur and an enslaving welfare state. Yet for every newcomer to the wealthy world boosting their per capita consumption, there remain billions in the poor world unable to scrape together the funds for a one-way ticket to the citadels of consumerdom, but increasingly reliant on trickle-down subsidies sent home by distant relatives.
Opium of the People
It's hard to get closer to the heart of the corporate elite manipulating and conditioning the governing classes of the world's highest consumption economies than Rupert Murdoch. His media empire has in large part been responsible for winning popular support for neo-liberal or neo-conservative governments in the UK, Australia, the US and elsewhere. In the UK the switch from Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party to Tony's Blair's New Labour Party represented no shift in Rupert Murdoch's long term agenda. Both were tools that facilitated the implementation of globalist policies and transferred power away from local centres of power to unaccountable transnational corps and spurious supranational entities. Yet Murdoch has always known how to tailor his incessent propaganda to the target audience. In London, UK, you can pick up the Sun often bundled with free chocolate bars, bingo tickets or fuel discount vouchers, then enter Starbucks only to pick up a copy of the Times with your coffee. On the way home, you have to dodge distributors of the freebie LondonPaper, also owned by News International, and replete with celebrity gossip and other news deemed to be of a greater interest to trendy twenty-somethings who work in the city's thriving new media and advertising companies. This joins other freebies like the Metro, City A.M. and London Lite all aggressively handed out gratis by low-paid and usually migrant workers. Such papers end up littering the rapid transport system. The London Times still sets a semi-serious tone, requiring a reading age over ten, and a keen interest in world affairs. Its regular columnists include former Marxists and unlimited growth enthusiasts, Brendan O'Neill and Mick Hume, forever attacking green fascists as naive apologists for eugenics and simply writing their perceived enemies off as against progress. To this print media empire, we should of course, add Sky TV and Fox News.
It comes as little surprise alongside semi-intellectual apologists for our high-consumption lifestyle, the Murdoch press hires the services of populist automobile evangelist and TV celebrity of Top Gear fame, Jeremy Clarkson, responsbile for driving a landrover up a Scottish mountain, another 4x4 all the way to the North Pole and hiring a personal double-decker bus to take advantage of apparently empty bus-only lanes, which he thinks should be available to cars. At the Borders book store Top Gear now boasts its own section, replete with glossy picture books of shiny motors for aspriring Formula 1 champs to drool over.
It takes quite a huge leap of the imagination to conclude that the liberal media is largely responsible for environmental scare stories, but alas a growing number of left-leaning pundits such as William Engdahl and Greg Palast have gone down this route. A cult has arisen around climate change denial movies. Anthropogenic climate change is, of course, only a small piece in a much larger puzzle and, I dare say, often serves to dodge the key issue of the long-term sustainability of our growth-addicted model of development. We need merely raise the spectre of pseudo-environmentalist aristocrats such as Al Gore, Ted Turner or Prince Philip to whip up a mass frenzy of indignation against a secret plot to forcibly reduce the world's population and thus deny billions of the world's poor of the same luxuries we take for granted in the prosperous world.
It's hard to deny that environmental concerns tend to appeal much more to the better-educated professional classes than the wider working and welfare-dependent classes, including most recent economic migrants. Billions are invested annually in the never-ending promotion of consumption, entertainment and pure unadulterated mind control. The other day I asked a lady why she was reaching so eagerly for her copy of the Sun. Apparently unaware of who owned and controlled the newspaper, her reason for buying it was simple, to find out what's on the telly and read more celebrity gossip. No doubt she wrote me off as pompous twat with no affinity for the working class. Out in the provinces away from cosmopolitan metropolises, the UK has become a maize of Tesco Towns, with the masses meeting only for their weekly shopping sprees or to engage in entertainment events organised by large corporate operations. When not at work or at school, most are glued to gigantic plasma screens watching action-packed movies, surfing the commercialised Internet, engaging in violence-themed videogames or seeking new partners in dumbed-down chatrooms.
The real debates on the future of our species and sustainability of our civilisation we should be holding have been significantly dumbed down on two fronts. First, the masses from Aberdeen to Zagreb or Sydney to Shanghai are lured by the never-ending promotion of the North American way of life, quite obviously unattainable for most. In this context eco-friendliness is just another desirable commodity. Second, the chattering classes are presented with simplified moral arguments about our duty to tackle a whole host of evils, ranging from climatic catastrophes, racism, despotic regimes, famine, energy security, homophobia, women's rights, child abuse, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Whatever the purported problem, the solutions on offer assume the moral and cultural superiority of the enlightened global elite. Take the UK's Independent Newspaper, renowned for its championing of environmental causes. It's also one of the most unashamed proponents of immigration to an already overcrowded island. Yet for the simple minds of many sandal-wearing leftists, there is no conflict. Welcoming newcomers to our shores and buying energy-saving lightbulbs or cycling to work to reduce our environmental footprint are both part of our duty to help build a better world. Sadly in the grand scheme of things such efforts are futile. I can cycle to work or choose to tolerate overcrowded trains to reduce my carbon footprint, but the brainwashed masses, especially those who have just moved to a high consumption region, want to indulge as long they can afford it.
Some former Marxists and a handful of those who still adhere to this religion are acutely aware of the environmental paradox. Mike Davis, a Los Angeles-based activist, formerly associated with the International Socialists and author of Planet of Slums. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster and City of Quart, has finally realised that decades of unsustainable development and reliance on a globalised network of multinationals and governmental organisations, has all but destroyed the last vestiges of worker solidarity. In a recent article published in www.informationclearinghouse.info, he concludes:
In light of such studies, the current ruthless competition between energy and food markets, amplified by international speculation in commodities and agricultural land, is only a modest portent of the chaos that could soon grow exponentially from the convergence of resource depletion, intractable inequality, and climate change. The real danger is that human solidarity itself, like a West Antarctic ice shelf, will suddenly fracture and shatter into a thousand shards. (full article)
Nonetheless to alleviate the human consequences of catastrophes caused by climate change in the poor world, Mike Davis still asks us to welcome more immigration on board our lifeboat. It's like inviting passengers from the lower decks of the Titanic, about to drown in a purportedly unsinkable ship, to board a luxury yacht just a few hundred metres away. Some would brave the icy waters, but while the yacht may accommodate a handful of desperate Titanic passengers, it too would sink if they all reached temporary safety. One way or another our failure to act now by powering down both consumption and reproduction will see an escalation of internecine warfare and famine, while the new corporate aristocracy run for the hills, building themselves havens of tranquillity with the resources they plundered in times of plenty.