Environmentalism is austerity on steroids

The left claims to hate austerity and yet its eco-dystopia would plunge millions into poverty.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

There are countless contradictions on what passes for the left these days. We’re against sexism, they cry, and then they’ll while away entire days hounding every uppity broad who dares to question the trans ideology. We’re anti-racist, they say, even as they yell ‘Uncle Tom’ at any person of colour who deviates from their white liberal orthodoxies. Be kind, they tweet, in between their venomous crusades against TERFs, gammon, boomers, deplorables, ‘semi-fascists’, you name it.

We’re against austerity, they insist, and yet then they agitate for an austerity of apocalyptic proportions. This, surely, is the most stark incongruity of the modern left. They rail against every library closure or reform of welfare payments as an intolerable assault on people’s living standards, and then they take to the streets in their thousands in support of a degrowth agenda that would plunge vast swathes of humankind into penury. They’re far meaner than any right-wing penny-pincher they claim to oppose.

This internal tension within eco-leftism was captured beautifully in the stunt carried out at the wedding of George Osborne, the former chancellor of the exchequer, on Saturday. A well-dressed woman ran up to Osborne and his wife as they exited the church and showered them in orange confetti. Orange, of course, is the colour du jour of that upper-middle-class death cult, Just Stop Oil. They splashed orange paint at the Chelsea Flower Show, threw orange powder at the snooker, littered Wimbledon in orange ticker tape. Orange is the colour used to alert people to danger, you see, and these privileged hysterics are determined to drum into the small minds of the polluting masses just how dangerous climate change has become.

So everyone automatically assumed the confetti thrower was from JSO. JSO itself seemed to welcome her crude intrusion into Osborne’s love life. ‘You look good in orange, George Osborne’, it tweeted at the weekend. But it has since distanced itself from this ideological wedding-crashing. Perhaps it recognised that it comes off as pathologically narcissistic to turn a couple’s big day into a platform for your eco-preening; that it will strike most people as conceited in the extreme to put yourself and your End Times lunacy front and centre in another person’s most intimate moment. Whoever this person was, and whatever potty belief she was hoping to promote, it crosses a line to do your political posturing in someone else’s private life.

And yet whether it was a Just Stop Oil stunt or not, it’s being cheered by the bourgeois left as a clever confrontation with a dastardly Tory, the author of modern austerity no less. Osborne, as David Cameron’s chancellor from 2010 to 2016, was notorious for his austerity programme. In welfare, social services, the arts, slashes to spending abounded. And what’s a little unscheduled confetti on his big day compared with that economic pain? Osborne’s old zeal for impoverishment was ‘far, far, far worse than orange confetti on your wedding day’, says Owen Jones. It’s fine to target Osborne, said James Skeet of JSO, because his cuts caused ‘thousands of excess deaths’.

It is hard to know what to say to this, except: ‘The gall.’ It requires industrial levels of chutzpah for a member of Just Stop Oil, or one of its media cheerleaders, like Owen Jones, to bemoan top-down attacks on living standards. For if JSO were to get its way, if its Malthusian dream of leaving fossil fuels in the ground were ever to be realised, it would make Osborne’s post-2008 austerity programme look like an era of milk and honey. The impact of JSO’s Anti-Industrial Revolution, its misanthropic urge to wind back modernity itself, would be truly dire – especially for the working classes.

Environmentalism is austerity on steroids. Consider one of JSO’s key demands: ‘No new oil or gas.’ This would be – there’s no other word for it – psychotic. Not only would such a crazed policy instantly throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work, by decommissioning the rigs and mines where they make their living – it would also make it all but impossible to keep society going. The infantile moralism of modern greens would have us believe that vile oil and gas are only used to propel 4x4s and airplanes packed with the rich and other ‘bad things’. In truth, every facet of our lives requires energy from oil and gas. The delivery of foodstuffs, house-building, schools, hospitals, life-support machines, heaters to protect the elderly from death in winter – all need energy derived from fossil fuels. Or consider libraries. The left wept when Osborne’s cuts led to library closures, but you try running a library in your post-fossil-fuel dystopia. Without oil, gas, electricity and trees torn down to make books, libraries would cease to exist.

As Alex Epstein argues, to ‘rapidly eliminate fossil-fuel use’ would make the world ‘an impoverished, dangerous and miserable place for most people’. Fossil fuels provide 80 per cent of the world’s energy. Just three per cent comes from solar and wind power, so beloved of green anti-modernists. And even that measly slice of global energy production is, in Epstein’s words, ‘totally dependent on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, for 24/7 back-up’. That is, if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, we have to crank up the fossil fuels. Ours is a world in which three billion people still use less electricity than your average American fridge. Agitating for less energy production in such a time is callous beyond belief. It would issue a death sentence on the world’s poor. George Osborne is Father Christmas in comparison with these crusaders against the gains and wonders of modernity.

We are already getting daily tasters of how destructive eco-austerity can be. The Net Zero ideology, embraced by governments across the West, aims to do in slow-motion what JSO would do overnight: wean mankind off fossil fuels. And its consequences are awful. Farms closed down, farmers losing their jobs, truckers’ lives being made more difficult, driving being made more expensive, air travel once again becoming the preserve of the rich, power stations going unbuilt… the elites’ unhinged hostility towards fossil fuels has already birthed all of this. Imagine how much worse it would get if JSO’s vision of a fossil-free world came to fruition.

Throwing confetti at Osborne is yet another colourful distraction from a dark truth: environmentalism is the enemy of working people.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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