by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 4
February 2021

What Roger Hallam gets right — and wrong

by Peter Franklin

Swampy is back. The environmental campaigner, famous for digging tunnels to disrupt road building projects, is now targeting HS2. This time, he’s been joined underground by his 16-year-old son. How time flies.

There’s nothing quite so conservative as a family tradition, nevertheless environmentalism does retain a Left-wing, counter-cultural image. Wisely, some greens are trying to challenge that perception — and I don’t just mean green Tories like Zac Goldsmith.

Roger Hallam, for instance, is a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion — and describes himself as being broadly of the radical Left.  Certainly, he’s not the sort of campaigner who gets invited to tea at Downing Street. If he does find himself in elevated company it’s more likely to be during his appearances before the beak (for acts of civil disobedience).

And yet, in a remarkable interview with UnHerd, he explicitly reaches out across the political divide — and not only the Left-Right divide. Skipping across the trenches of the culture war, he makes an appeal directly to social conservatives.

It is, he argues, our patriotic duty to join the resistance against climate change. The risks we’re running with the environment are of such an enormous scale that they threaten everything that traditional Tories hold dear.

Even if the probability of ruin (as opposed to serious, but manageable damage) is quite small, Hallam believes we simply don’t have the right to take that chance on behalf of future generations. In that, he appeals not only to the small-c conservative aversion to systemic risk, but also to Burkean ideas about what different generations owe to one another.

I’d love to have seen Hallam in conversation with another Roger — the late Roger Scruton. In many ways, they’d have more in common with one another than with the ‘conference environmentalism’ of the global elite (of which Hallam takes a dim view).

As it is, I hope he continues to talk to Tories — but also to listen to them. There are at least two respects in which deep greenery could do with getting bluer.

Firstly, in recognising that there can be no sustainable move toward simpler, less consumerist lifestyles without a return to a stronger sense of family, community and nation — all of which have been weakened by liquid modernity.

Secondly, there needs to more credit given to the role of enterprise and innovation. In making the case for civil disobedience, Hallam argues that (non-violent) disruption has been necessary agent of change throughout history. However markets can be disruptive too — and sometimes, in just the right way. In recent years, we’ve seen green technologies up-ending the (short-term) economic case for pollution. Advances in wind and solar power aren’t out-competing fossil fuels because they’re more virtuous, but because they’re cheaper.

The price mechanism cannot be disregarded entirely. Though it shouldn’t be allowed to trump the things that matter more than the bottom line, market forces can be harnessed for the common good. This is a reconciliation that the statist Left doesn’t see as achievable and that the individualist Right doesn’t see as desirable. For proper conservatives, however, it is both achievable and desirable.

Deep greens should at least consider the possibility that the true blues are right.

Join the discussion

  • A case in point

    As a deep green Conservative myself, I recognise that the national body is in a better position to steward the national ecology rather than a global technocratic body.

    If all nations gave enough regard to their national ecological footprint, assisted by global cooperation, then the global ecology and biosphere would be fine.

    And as you say, strong families and strong communities would be very much part of this strategy, along with market innovations.

  • The population of Bangladesh has doubled since the 1970s to around 160m despite the threat of sea level change (and previous flooding episodes). The Sahel bordering the Sahara has seen a net greening since the 1980s.

    Of course environmental change happens and humans have to adapt, but sea level rise is 3.3cm per decade – a house brick every 30 years. Local coastal effects like subsidence, silting, storm damage or human development are likely to have a bigger impact on local conditions.

    It’s more useful to see acceleration in sea level rise as one of primary tests for catastrophic climate change theory. To get towards the more dramatic predictions – ie increases higher than 1m by the end of the century (currently on track for 33cm per century), the annual rise in sea level would need to jump up substantially – at least by a factor of 3. Up to now no dramatic change in rate has happened in the quarter of a century since climate change became a political issue – instead remaining broadly linear (see NASA for graphs).

    We can decarbonize rapidly if the will is there to move to nuclear power. Dilly-dallying around with solar and wind is slowing our time to action.

  • You almost got that right – I think it should be

    Beware of Greens bearing gifts

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