Thursday, March 27, 2008


Andrew Potter has this short essay in the Financial Post in which he draws attention to one of the more fervent ideologies embracing AGW, which he labels declinism.

The central components of declinism are the traditional belief in limits, a pervasive pessimism about life and the future, and a leftist allocation of blame on all things progressive, democratic and technological. Indeed, rather than providing possible solutions, human progress itself is a blight on the planet. It is Orwellian zealotry as manifest destiny.

As Potter writes:
  • There is no point in arguing with declinism, because it is not a set of empirical propositions but an ideology.
  • As the declinist sees it, the rights-based politics of liberal individualism, combined with the free-market economy, have served to undermine local attachments and communitarian feelings, leading us to seek meaning in shallow consumerism and mindless entertainments.

  • That is why climate change is the ultimate declinist wet dream. Sure, there is a long tradition of declinist hobby horses, including overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources and the industrial poisoning of the land and the sea, but climate change is the rug that pulls the whole room together.

  • Declinism is both a sin and a betrayal.

  • It is a sin because it displays an utter lack of faith in humanity, believing that we will inevitably abuse the gifts of freedom, knowledge and power and become the agents of our own destruction.
  • It is a betrayal of modernity and of the liberal ideals that have breathed life and hope into human progress for the past four hundred years.
Declinism. Not a term used by Nordhaus and Shellenberger in their book Break Through, but identical characteristics to many of the more zealous and intransigent they describe as contributing to the death of environmentalism.
When people of differing ideological perspectives analyse a situation and reach similar conclusions, it adds credibility to the outcome.

Commentators might be defining declinism, advocating a politics of possibility, describing rational environmentalism, complaining about misanthropic watermelons, promoting individual responsibility or, as in this blog, characterizing change as a choice between stasis and dynamism.

The terminology may differ but the analysis is the same: AGW offers a massive pretence for radical environmentalism to dust off its old canards as defining social issues. This conceit allows policy discussions to be framed around constraint, limits and regulation, rather than adaptation, development and human prosperity.

It is Stone Age thinking in an era of unprecedented technological opportunity.