World

The trouble with ‘bourgeois’ environmentalism

Brendan O’Neill

(Credit: Getty images)

Brendan O’Neill

24 September 2022

12:45 AM

The left needs to shake off its ‘bourgeois environmentalism’. It needs to distance itself from the ‘bourgeois environmental lobby’ and make the case for fracking and the building of new nuclear power stations.

Who do you think said this? Some contrarian commentator? A right-winger irritated by eco-loons? Nope, it was Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB trade union.

In an explosive intervention in left-wing discourse, Smith has accused Labour of a ‘lack of honesty’ and of ‘not facing reality’ on the energy question. We are living through a severe energy crisis and yet still Labour is sniffy about fracking and down on nuclear power, he says. All because it is in thrall to bourgeois greens who just don’t like industry and modernity very much.

Yes, climate change is a problem, he says, but we need energy. ‘We import a huge amount of fracked gas’ from America, he points out, so why don’t we just frack our own? We should get serious about developing nuclear power too, says Smith.

The GMB represents 460,000 working people, including the majority of workers at the UK’s nuclear-power stations. So it is logical – and good – that Smith would defend the nuclear industry. But his broader point is even more important.

‘(The) question’, he says, ‘is where is the electricity going to come from? We cannot do it by renewables and we cannot rely on energy imports.’ In short, we should get cracking – and fracking – on generating our own abundant sources of energy.

His killer comments concern the aloof, elitist tendencies of green activists. The renewables industry – ‘and many of those who espouse it in politics’ – have ‘no interest in jobs for working-class communities’, he says. He continues:

‘(We) should stop pretending that we’re in alliance with them. The big winners from renewables have been the wealthy and big corporate interests. Invariably the only jobs that are created when wind farms get put up, particularly onshore wind, have been jobs in public relations and jobs for lawyers.’

This is really important stuff. Smith has laid down a gauntlet to the modern left – are you on the side of working-class communities who benefit from well-paid jobs in the energy sector and from the domestic production of energy, or are you on the side of ‘bourgeois’ greens who are offended by any kind of human intervention in nature, whether that’s digging down for gas or unleashing the awesome power contained in uranium?

For far too long, Labour and left-wingers more broadly have been embracing the ideology of environmentalism. This has always struck me as utterly bizarre, because it seems pretty clear that green politics run entirely counter to the interests of working-class communities.

It is not a coincidence that environmentalism is the favoured political pursuit of the upper middle classes, posh influencers, privately educated columnists and even our new King (God save him). Because this anti-industrial worldview, this ideology that looks with such horror upon our mass consumer society, and the masses who partake in it, is the perfect vehicle for the expression of an older aristocratic disdain for modernity.

Environmentalism is a modern manifestation of the 19th-century Romantic reaction against the Industrial Revolution. Only back then it was more honest – it was all puffy-collared rich folk shocked that the serfs who once worked their lands were now headed into teeming new cities to work in factories. Today, the misanthropic scorn for modernity tends to be more deceitfully dressed up. It’s less ‘Who will toil my farmland now?!’ and more ‘What will happen to the air I breathe if millions of gammon are driving to Aldi every day?’.

Smith, who made these comments in an interview with the New Statesman, is dead right: ‘bourgeois’ is exactly the right word for modern environmentalism. It is alarming that the left has bought into all this middle-class green nonsense. I trust Spectator readers will forgive me for quoting Trotsky, but he did say that the task of left-wing revolutionaries was to bring about the increase of ‘the power of man over nature and the abolition of the power of man over man’. The modern left does the precise opposite of this. It seeks to shrink man’s power over nature and to boost man’s power over man, via new forms of authoritarianism and censorship. Please, right-wingers, I implore you: stop calling modern leftists ‘Trots’.

Gary Smith has done something incredibly important. He hasn’t only put pressure on Labour to think seriously about fracking and nuclear. He has also forced the left to ask itself why it has lost touch with working-class concerns and found itself so beholden to posh pursuits like ‘saving the planet’. A left that represents bourgeois interests is of no use to anyone. Except, of course, the bourgeoisie.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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