Most of us know someone like Roger. His speciality is that he opposes policies that would achieve his objectives, and supports policies that achieve their opposite. Roger supports what he calls ‘clean’ energy, yet is adamantly opposed to nuclear power which is among the energy sources with lowest environmental impact. He is also among those who protest against fracking, even though the gas it produces enable us to phase out the coal-fired power stations that are more than twice as dirty as gas-powered ones. He argues that fracked gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel, which it is, and is therefore fast running out, which it isn’t.
Roger feels passionately about the plight of the world’s poor, and is concerned that they should not go hungry. Yet he campaigns to ban the genetically modified crops that can aid their farmers with crops that are more resistant to pesticides, drought and salt water, and can produce increased yields with less chemical fertilizers. He expresses his sympathy with children in poorer countries, yet opposes the ‘golden’ rice modified with vitamin A that can save hundreds of thousands of third world children from death or blindness every year. He supports using food crops to make ethanol, a renewable fuel.
He supports buying locally and campaigns against the ‘food miles’ that use energy to transport, even though it is by having us buy their products and crops that poorer countries can lift their populations out of poverty.
Roger is worried that greenhouse gases might be heating up the Earth, yet opposes all proposals that might offer technical solutions to this. He is against even an experiment to seed areas of ocean with iron to generate algae blooms, increase fish stocks and sequester carbon. He opposes all proposed ways to sequester carbon, saying it is more important not to emit it in the first place. He wants experiments banned that would spray fine salt water mist into the lower cloud layers to increase their reflectiveness to incident solar radiation.
Roger’s argument in the above examples is that they act against ‘behavioural change,’ which he says is the only solution to our problems. Ways that enable us to solve those problems and carry on as we have, growing richer, miss the point in his eyes because he does not want us to be doing that.
If we were to take the objectives at face value, it would be illogical systematically to oppose the means of achieving them. In the case of Roger, and maybe some others like him, however, I think I detect signs of a deeper, more fundamental motive. At heart Roger is conservative. He dislikes the pace and complexity of modern life, and yearns for the measured rhythm of a simpler life. He has constructed a somewhat fanciful picture of the past which overlooks some of the disease and squalor that accompanied it. Roger wants us all to live more simply because at heart he dislikes change and the unsettling effect it has on people like himself. Those of us who are comfortable with change and the benefits it brings will beg to differ…