Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Ele Ludemann: Inconvenient truths for eco-zealots

Radical environmentalists have had far too loud a voice, and put far too much effort into attempting to put the environmental cart in front of the research, science and technological horses with no regard for the economic and social costs.

At last someone is reminding them of some inconvenient truths:

For environmentalists to have the moral high ground, they need to confront several inconvenient truths and listen to people they disagree with, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton says.

He told a recent Environmental Defence Society conference there is a danger environmentalists “get into a bubble of clear-sighted, righteous agreement that if only other people had sufficient political will and shared our views, we’d be well on our way to the promised land”. . .

That promised land would be one where we’d all be colder, hungrier and poorer.

Of one thing I am clear, we won’t mobilise change in a polarised society. If you’ve stopped listening, you are halfway down the road to the polarised society that we have in the United States today.”

Upton said environmentalism is much harder than a few slogans and he listed what he called five “inconvenient truths” that need addressing.

His first is that closing polluting industries will in most cases result in imported replacement goods unless there is an equal focus on curbing consumption.

“Telling consumers they can’t have stuff is an altogether more difficult conversation to have.”

That is especially so when that stuff is essential for health and wellbeing.

His second inconvenient truth is that society must entertain some environmentally damaging activities like mining or the provision of infrastructure.

“The question is how much damage? If we are not prepared to examine trade-offs critically, we will be dismissed as the dog that barks at every passing car.”

Environmentalists oppose extractive industries but in the transition to zero emissions energy, demand will increase for metals needed for batteries, wind turbines and solar panels.

The metals have to come from somewhere and Upton said provided extraction does not take us past irreversible tipping points, then it is a case of weighing up the environmental degradation caused against the value of the minerals gained.

He gave the example of mining coking coal, which is needed for steel making.

It’s rank hypocrisy to campaign against mining here and benefit from what is mined elsewhere, often with lower environmental and labour standards.

Upton’s third inconvenient truth is the call for green growth, which he said isn’t the easy economic and environmental win some people imagine.

Tourism is not environmentally benign and renewable electricity is usually far more efficient and therefore less damaging than fossil fuels but will result in ecosystem damage.

“The green growth vision of the future will continually trade one environmental issue for the next. We can’t escape that.”

This reminds me of the conundrum : what do environmentalists do when they see an endangered species eating an endangered plant?

The fourth inconvenient truth is that change is costly and not the win-win it is pitched as.

The cost isn’t just financial, it’s social too. The radical green prescription would have a large and detrimental impact on quality of life and all we need to maintain it.

Upton quoted an extract from his latest report, Going with the Grain, citing studies that repeatedly showed on-farm efficiency gains could improve environmental outcomes by 10–20% and improve profitability.

Not all farmers have the skills to do this and could be forced from the industry, while farming lobbies, like all lobbies, move at the pace of their slowest members.

“Environmentalists have to be conscious of the social impacts of these sorts of transitions.”

Environmental regulations can be unnecessarily complex and he said regulations should be driven more from the bottom up.

This is what farmers have been calling for.

“Meeting environmental standards cannot be optional. But neither do the means of achieving them need to be monolithic, if only because no two catchments are the same physically or socially.”

Local catchment groups are a good example of ground-up work with good results.

His last inconvenient truth is that arguing for degrowth, as Upton said freshwater ecologist Mike Joy did at the conference, is not an easy sell either.

“As a student of human nature, my hunch is that if we tell people that they can’t have the stuff they’ve grown to expect, they will turn to thinking about how they can take it from others.”

This stuff isn’t just luxuries, it’s necessities which include plentiful, healthy food.

Upton said his list of inconvenient truths may be confronting but are descriptions of the world as it is for many people rather than the world environmentalists would like it to be.

“If we want to avoid the dirty growth on offer from doubling mining or agricultural exports, then we have to say how else we will maintain our living standards.”

It would be impossible to maintain our living standards, let alone improve them, with the eco-zealots’ recipe of doing less and taxing more.

The only sustainable way to be greener is to balance environmental, economic and social factors.

A big part of the solution lies in more investment in research, science and technology. That’s the trio that have solved problems in the past and that is what is needed to have a greener future without unaffordable economic and social costs.

Ele Ludemann is a North Otago farmer and journalist, who blogs HERE - where this article was sourced.


Robert Arthur said...

We must return to a society more like 1900, plus severe population control. Far fewer cars, far less travel, commuter, local, recreational, overseas. Devices, buildings and structures must be made more durable and be preserved.
How we will occupy all will be a problem but many state tenants can demonstrate how to pass the time. Suppression of the progressive instinct of many colonist descended will be a problem

Ray S said...

Robert Arthur
I usually look forward to reading your comments but this time you just spoiled an otherwise run of good sane comment.
I assume the suggestions you make would apply to others ie: no cars, no travel anywhere, no busses or trains, severely limited food supplies and worst of all, no procreation, or only with a one off license.

Return to 1900, no thanks, pity we cant ask someone who was there what it was like.

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