Month: July 2022
The last time I blogged about climate was in early 2018. Back then, I said that the climate scare was “primarily a media phenomenon“.
I also ignored everything I knew about the Cathedral. The media is part of the ruling structure; if the media believes something, then by definition the ruling structure believes it.
My mental model, at the time, was that the media promoted the climate scare because it was good TV. The politicians went along with it because it was good politics. But at the end of the day, real action on the climate would be superficial, fake, or indefinitely postponed to the future, because the sensible people behind the scenes would never actually cripple our entire civilisation over something so silly.
What an idiot.
In reality the climate scare was and is primarily a political phenomenon — one of the non-partisan runaway manias I discussed recently, under the title Loyalists without a cause. As I tweeted, “Since the end of the cold war, the most damaging movements have been non-partisan: environmentalism, social justice, global democracy.”
In the modern system, where nobody is responsible for results, and everyone is responsible for tomorrow’s papers, it is just very much easier to support something that makes you seem selfless or kind than to oppose it. If it is actually a live partisan issue, then you can and should take your side, in order to appeal to your party, but only a few things can be live partisan issues at once. Those are the important issues, and if you weaken your position by taking an unattractive position on an unimportant non-partisan issue, you risk concrete losses on the important partisan issues. (You also risk your own personal advancement.)
I did touch on this, back in 2010 — the left-wing commentator Jonathan Hari claimed that 91% of Conservative MPs “don’t believe man-made global warming exists.” And yet, I emphasised, they ran on a manifesto commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In late 2018, I pointed out that “It is a feature of any large movement that pretending to believe something is effectively the same as believing it.” If Tory MPs in 2010 did not believe that man-made global warming existed, that made no difference. They effectively did believe it. There were no sensible people behind the scenes, keeping the power stations open.
There’s also a generational effect. The 2010 parliamentary conservative party might have been pretending, but newcomers coming in weren’t in on the joke.
There’s also no absolute limit on how far things can go, as Sri Lanka is in the process of demonstrating. There is no fuel on the island, no money to buy any because the export industries have been crippled, and the mob yesterday stormed the presidential palace. Because of environmentalism.
At the same time, it isn’t actually inevitable. To take one of my favourite themes, the unthinkable can become thinkable very fast. This could happen tomorrow.
The European Commission and Parliament have agreed that Natural Gas is Green and sustainable
The easy way to save civilisation, without looking an idiot on climate change, is just to not talk about it. It all got going because the media would happily report the conflict between “nice” pro-environment politicians and “nasty” anti-environment politicians, and nobody wanted to appear nasty. If the left-wing media see that banging on about climate change is bad for their politicians, they will keep their mouths shut. The population will forget all about it in a matter of weeks. If it stays a non-partisan issue, then politicians will as always take whatever side of the story gives them better press.
Over a longer timescale, when the fanatics counterattack, then an actual counter-narrative will gradually be built. The dangers were over-hyped. Adaptation is feasible. Warm weather is actually good. Those of us who have been saying all of this for decades will be completely ignored, but our talking points, suitably laundered, will be everywhere. As I said before, decades from now the question will be recorded in history as a media fad that got out of hand.
A bunch of scientists will have funding dry up. But this was never really about science. The whole climate scare is fundamentally political, not scientific. Because of that, if the politics change everything else will just topple. In the early years of this blog, I wrote very frequently about the science, or lack thereof, of global warming. There is a small amount of very bad science making the case for a catastrophe. There is a truly vast amount of science explicitly taking that as a given, and wrapped in verbiage that seems to support it, but not itself adding any evidence. There are a lot of papers whose conclusions are phrased to give support to the dominant political narrative, but whose concrete findings are wholly compatible with “negligible effect”. Change the political incentives, and all these papers can be repeated, with identical results and “nothing need be done” abstracts. Again, history will not describe this as a scientific story.
The active propagandists of global warming always knew that this could happen. You can see that very clearly in the climategate emails that leaked in 2009 — they were desperate to keep control of the media narrative, even though to casual observers it looked like their opponents were very few and weak.
I’m not actually particularly confident that it is going to break like that now. Sri Lanka shows that it is not inevitable. But it could happen.
Cars as transport
It’s a long time since I wrote about cars.
For most of the history of this blog, I didn’t drive a car. I studied or worked in London for twenty-five years, and London has very comprehensive public transport and not much parking space. I also love walking.
So, when it comes to transport, I am by no means a car fanatic. It’s true that I wrote in 2013 that the advantages of rail travel would come to an end, but that is based on future technological changes that have yet to occur. For the time being, there is still much to be said for rail, and other alternatives to cars have a longer future. So to those who see car usage as a problem to be reduced, I am not really hostile
The thing is that arguments about cars as transport are only addressing part of the story. There is another significant aspect to cars in our society today — a practical aspect, not any psychological mumbo-jumbo about fetishism.
Particularly in libertarian circles, there is an idea that there could be “Virtual Nations”. Instead of belonging to a country filled with the horrible people who just happen to live near you, you can form a virtual nation along with people like you. You spend all day on the internet anyway, so these people are your real neighbours. You can pay taxes to your virtual nation, vote for its government, invest in online common infrastructure, and make up a really cool flag. It’s been a while since I came across any of these manifestos, but these days blockchains would definitely be involved.
Obviously this is really stupid1 even without blockchains. As Russia has just reminded us, nation states are fundamentally about force. If you don’t have a border you can defend, you ain’t a country. Your relationship with your horrible neighbours is the problem, and a nation-state is the solution. Additional features of nation-states, such as flags, football teams and welfare states, are secondary.
Your country is tied to your geography. It is, however, possible to make a mini-country within a country. Devolution, federalism, subsidiarity are formal mechanisms, but there is an informal kind of partial seccession that goes down to the level of gated communities, office parks, and so on. These are not quite virtual nations, but, being based on physical separation, it is something real.
In the last few decades in our societies it has become something highly prized by the rich. It is a definite social shift, triggered by the rhetoric of equality and enabled by technology, that the rich have much less contact with the rest of the population than ever before. The rich no longer have servants in significant numbers, whereas as I’ve mentioned before, it used to be that 25% of the population worked as servants. Where the rich still rely on service work by humans, huge effort has gone into depersonalising the relationship. This allows us to pretend that we are all equal, that we all do our different jobs. I might be working for you right now, but then you might be working for me later on – there is no relationship of superior to inferior. There is some truth to this, but only some. There are plenty of people who have the practical status of masters over people with the practical status of servants, but they are all theoretically equal and we maintain that illusion by minimising any personal contact that would either dispel it or break the economic relationship.
More importantly, we now live in a society of pervasive violent crime. I have written much about this over the years, because it is controversial, but I think it is possibly the most important single fact about the modern world. My summary is here, and this whole piece is a restatement and elaboration of that one. There are vastly more people in our societies today whose behaviour is dangerously criminal than there were when our civilisation was at its peak, which I would put very vaguely as 1800-1939. To the extent that this isn’t overwhelmingly obvious through crime statistics, it is because of the phenomenon I describe here — people are protecting themselves from crime by physically separating themselves from the criminals.
The polity of drivers
And this is why discussing car usage solely in terms of transport is so pointless. Virtual Nations are in general stupid, but “people with cars” actually do effectively make a virtual nation. To be a citizen of Great Britain you don’t need much paperwork, but to be a citizen of the nation of car drivers you have to register yourself with the bureaucracy and keep your information with them up to date. Because you own an expensive piece of equipment that the state knows all about, you have something that they can easily take from you as a punishment. In fact, they can take it even without going through the endless palaver of a court case. In the last few years, you are even required to constantly display your identification which can be recognised and logged by cameras and computers, so the state for much of the time knows exactly where you are.
I used to find this outrageous, and it is still not my preferred way for a government to govern a country effectively. But it is a way to govern a country, and, unlike Great Britain, the country of British car-drivers is actually governed.
But what about the objection to virtual nations? The virtual nation of car-drivers is not a true province, like Wales or Texas, but it is physically separated from the rest of the nation. That is the point of suburbia, of the windy housing estates full of dead ends, with no amenities and no through roads. If you drive a car, you can quite easily have a home that is not accessible to anyone without a car. When you do have to venture among the savages, you do so in a metal box with a lockable door.
The above image is taken from a 2020 twitter thread by @JonnyAnstead. It is an excellently written thread, and makes perfect sense if you ignore the question of crime. In the absence of that key item, he is left to think that all these car-centric features are either a mistake, or some weird conspiracy of car manufacturers or road builders. In reality there is massive demand for housing in this form, because it permits the buyers to immigrate into the virtual nation of car drivers. As I tweeted at the time, “The cars vs people question is just another aspect of the central issue: the biggest value of a car is enables you to stay away from the people who don’t have cars.”
The alternative to cars
There are reasonable alternatives to cars for transport (in a lot of cases, anyway), but we need an alternative to cars as a safe virtual nation to live in.
If you want a society that is not centred on the car, for everyone who can afford one, then put the criminals in prison. That’s it, end of tweet.
OK, this isn’t a tweet I suppose. How exactly to put the criminals in prison is a somewhat bigger question, but it has to be done. I have written about it many times, but, aside from the post linked already, there is this one, where I mention how it should be, and this one, where I describe how it is today. The police and court system is just too inefficient to function. Issues like antiracism, sentimentality, checklist culture have all have their impact, but I don’t think there is any one cause. It has just got steadily less efficient because it was allowed to, and it probably has to be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. “Tough on crime” politics is totally useless, because no politician inside the system can actually admit how bad things are, so they always rely on showy but incremental items that have negligible practical effect.
Update: Did a little editing that I should have done before posting. Also, the discussions of town planning that this post arose from were referring to Britain; I didn’t generalise to the US. But Candide tweeted: Uhm. What do you think white flight was if not mass emigration to the nation of America-with-cars? — which seems pretty persuasive to me.