“Going green”: a phrase that strikes terror into the heart of the conservative and the libertarian. It conjures up images of wind turbines, organic farming, tofu burgers and tree-hugging hippies. Perhaps as a result of this, UKIP has generally distanced itself from traditional green politics, remaining skeptical of climate alarmism, opposing current renewable energy targets, and supporting fracking. No problems there, as far as I’m concerned. What worries me however is that UKIP lacks a coherent stance on environmental issues. We have sensible policies, but do we have a philosophy to tie those policies together?
American futurist Alex Steffen divides people, based on their general environmental philosophy, into four categories: the dark greens, the light greens, the bright greens, and the greys.
The dark greens are the real catastrophists, the ones who believe that humanity’s every action is turning beautiful, pristine, nature into some kind of concrete graveyard-cum-toxic waste dump. They include prominent figures such as Bill McKibben, who wants to ban 95% of fossil fuel use, Paul Ehrlich, who predicted that England would cease to exist by the year 2000, and Prince Philip, who once claimed he’d like to be reincarnated as a deadly virus. Dark greens are primitivist, anti-freedom, and anti-industry (ironic then that they align themselves with the left, when they are clearly the most horrendous reactionaries). The dark greens are not the ones we should be emulating. They do, unfortunately, have a strong foothold in current discussion, and need to be opposed by a more sensible line of argument.
So what about the light greens? Light greens are your everyday middle-class eco-warriors. They recycle, take showers instead of baths, eat less meat, and turn the lights off when they don’t need them. The light green philosophy seems eminently sensible: encourage people to take personal responsibility, reduce waste, do your own bit. The danger of this approach however is that it risks us sleepwalking onto the dark green path. It is not just actions, but the premises behind them that matter, and the light greens have very flawed premises.
I think the light greens are to the dark greens what Fabians are to Leninists. Light greens share the same philosophy—human impact is bad, industry is harmful, we need to learn to live with less, we need to build a more ‘ecological’ society etc—but not the same political strategy. They don’t want sudden, worldwide upheaval; they want a gradual transition from modern “dirty” industrial society to some kind of “clean”, utopian “harmony with nature”. I think the light green approach is something to be very cautious of.
The third approach, the bright green approach, is the one that I find most promising. Bright greens champion the preservation of nature and the sustainable usage of resources, whilst arguing that these two goals are inseparable from industry and innovation. Our prosperity, our standard of living need not be sacrificed for the sake of environmental improvement; we can achieve both by the same means. The industrial economy, the market based system, will be the source not of our downfall but of our continued triumph.
Right now, I think UKIP stands with at least one foot in the bright green camp. The party’s 2015 manifesto pledges to “keep the lights on”, supporting the continued (and expanded) usage of fossil fuels alongside nuclear and hydro. It pledges to make industry more competitive, advancing reforms that will encourage faster development and innovation, whilst simultaneously expressing a desire to preserve the countryside, protect the green belt and prioritise brownfield sites for housing. In the education section, the manifesto promises to abolish tuition fees for future scientists and engineers. It seems clear that UKIP is a party that wants growth, development, and new technologies to ensure an improved standard of living, whilst simultaneously preserving the beautiful green landscape that Brits treasure.
One foot with the bright greens, but the other foot, I fear, with what Steffen calls ‘the greys’. Steffen’s description of this group is about as turbid as the colour he chooses to designate them, but it seems to include a ragtag bunch: crony businessmen, lobbyists, various politicians, intellectuals without scientific expertise, and climate scientists skeptical of the current (and rather wobbly) consensus. It is UKIP’s association with this group that earns it the label of “climate change denying”.
Whether individual members of UKIP are skeptical of climate change or not shouldn’t matter. The bright green approach allows us to avoid the dichotomy between “climate change denial” and leftist ecoprimitivism. We don’t need to take a position in favour of or against the scientific consensus, but merely in favour of human freedom: the freedom to acquire and use reliable energy, the freedom to develop new technologies, the freedom to transform (or preserve) the natural environment.
The best thing about the bright green approach is that it gives UKIP an edge of positivity. Other parties accuse UKIP of being negative, but they are the ones who, to a greater or lesser extent, think human industry will lead to climate catastrophe. By taking the adaptive, optimistic, economically liberal approach, UKIP can bring a different argument to the political stage. Bye-bye wind farms, hello to a bright future.