Azara Blog: Tony Juniper speaks in the Sustainable Development series

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Date published: 2009/02/04

Tony Juniper gave the second lecture in the Engineering Department's 7th Annual Lecture Series in Sustainable Development 2009 with the title "Sustainable development - great green dream or impossible ambition?"

Tony Juniper headed the so-called Friends of the Earth in England for many years and is an archetypical so-called environmentalist, so very academic middle class. Indeed he is the Green Party candidate for Parliament at the next election. He is very slick and talks pretty quickly and in a way which implies he has been using the same slides over and over again. He named his website after himself (well, some sad people do) and the content of the website is mainly a home page with glowing testimonials from other luvvies about how great and important he is. So he is evidently into branding and promoting himself, which is always worrying. Indeed, he pretty much claimed credit for the 2008 climate change bill which required the government to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050. (Or else.)

It is amazing that someone can speak (quickly) for an hour, and supposedly be on top of the game, without saying anything new. He just repeated the usual litany of CO2 and temperature (etc.) charts and how the world was at an end unless the world did something drastic. Well, he didn't really specify exactly what the world should do, but no doubt we should all do exactly what Tony Juniper wants and we will all be saved. He wasn't really into this Democracy thing (although he is now trying to become elected) because it meant that politicians have to be re-elected every few years so some of the time have to pay some attention to what people want, rather than just pay attention to what the academic middle class wants.

He did touch on one of the classic academic middle class talking points. So supposedly there are "high levels of consumerism" in the world. What exactly is "consumerism"? Well he didn't say, but of course "consumerism" (in the sneering way that the academic middle class uses the term) means goods and services that the academic middle class does not like. So pop CDs bad, classical CDs good. Mobile phones bad (whoops, except the ones they themselves use). Computers bad, or good, depending on whatever. Shoes bad, at least if you spend more than 20 pounds on a pair. One could play this game forever. Juniper could easily have been the Archbishop of Canterbury talking at this point. And indeed, environmentalism can be viewed as just another religion, where the high priests will save the parishioners from holy damnation, and lead the way to salvation.

As was to be expected, Juniper mentioned poverty in the developing world. So one reason we need to be so concerned about the environment is that the poor of the world depend so much on it. Who would have thought. But really, this whole talking point just veers towards neo-colonialism. So the wonderful academic middle class in the West will ride to the rescue of those poor slobs in the developing world. What Juniper and his fellow travellers never do is mention the ordinary people of Britain, because he wants to reduce their standard of living. After all, they have "high levels of consumerism". And he took his usual cheap shot at GM food (so apparently its only aim is to destroy biodiversity). So he's concerned about poverty but trashes technology that might help feed the world (amongst other things).

He, like many of the academic middle class, thinks that GDP is a terrible measure of progress. Far better to have some nebulous "quality economic activity" measurement and "ecological accounting". Funnily enough, only the academic middle class ever believe this stuff. Meanwhile back in the real world (e.g. China and India), everyone wants a car.

Like many of the academic middle class, Juniper says that "pollution" not "income" should be taxed. Well sure, one should put a price on pollution. But by the same reckoning one should pay the proper price for all goods and services. Take trains. For some reason people who take trains to work think the rest of the country should subsidise them. But this kind of direct subsidy is no better than the indirect subsidy you get if you don't price pollution. Of course Juniper benefitted for many years from UK train subsidies because he lives in Cambridge and worked in London, so he is keen on train subsidies. But it is a singularly unsustainable practise (travelling over 100 miles each day to and from work, partly at someone else's expense). And as Juniper well knows, but chose to ignore, if taxing pollution worked then the pollution would reduce and the tax take would collapse. But hey, why let reality get in the way of a good soundbite. Well, unless you kept increasing the pollution tax rate to a level higher than was justified by the circumstance. Which is the case with the petrol tax in Europe.

Now Juniper, unlike most so-called enviromentalists, brought up the issue of population. So the world population is going to increase by perhaps half by 2050. If the environmental problems today are bad, think what it will be like in 2050. Well, on this point Juniper is a complete sinner. He has three children. Most people these days should be thinking about having no children. But those who want to have children should not have more than one or two. Having three or more should be considered worthy of social shunning. Indeed, these people should be specially taxed. Funnily enough, Juniper didn't mention this point. In fact he didn't offer any specific point about how to deal with the growing population. He mentioned at the end, when someone questioned him about it, that the best way to get a reduced population would be to make the poor world richer, and in particular to educate women, because when people are educated they have fewer children (correlation, not causation). Funnily enough, many people in the academic middle class of Britain (e.g. David Cameron, also with three children) seem not to have been passed the news.

On the population issue he also mentioned urbanisation. So half the world allegedly now lives in urban rather than rural areas (but of course that depends how you exactly define these terms). Now it has become a recent talking point amongst many so-called environmentalists that urban living is much more environmentally friendly than rural living. Juniper, to his credit, knows that that is wrong. So why is there urbanisation? Because people want to make money (yes, money, not "quality economic activity"). And the best place to make money is in cities. Indeed, Juniper is a perfect example of that, since he went to London to work because it made him more money (well, he would say "better opportunity, blah, blah", but it amounts to the same thing). And people who make more money, consume more and pollute more. The correlation here is almost perfect. Urbanisation results in increased demand and pollution.

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