● Environmentalism is unpopular because it echoes the globalist, anti-national agenda
● Climate change should be addressed as a security challenge to the nation state
● We need an assertive foreign policy, with more spending on defence, development and diplomacy
I have argued in earlier posts that nations enable liberty by creating trust among citizens (Proposition 2) and that we need a leaner, more capable state to meet the domestic challenges of this new age (Proposition 3).
Nations also enable a more benevolent and effective foreign policy. I listed the catastrophic threats the world faces, ‘from lethal pandemics that attack the healthy and mutate faster than our vaccines; to war in some hideous modern form; to catastrophic technological collapse; to the effects of a tipping point in climate change, such as the melting of the permafrost over the Arctic tundra leading to vast releases of methane.’ Many of these threats require greater national resilience, including improved capabilities in Whitehall and more sovereignty in essentials like food, energy and tech. But they also demand action beyond our borders, and in concert with others.
Acting in concert with others does not require nations to subsume themselves in multilateral organisations, meta-states like the EU or the UN. On the contrary, they urgently require independent nation states – for only nation states have the popular legitimacy that is needed for the steps that need to be taken.
Climate change is the cardinal example here. Why do conservatives, and particularly working-class voters, distrust environmentalists so much? Partly it is because the green agenda challenges the doctrine of economic liberty. It involves a lot of petty prohibitions, long-term targets, and picking industrial winners. In this it resembles so many failed efforts by socialists to direct the economy. It assumes an infallible wisdom about what is happening in the world, and about how to change it. The costs of these changes fall on other people, people very different from the lobbyists and academics who push for them: the costs fall on entrepreneurs, the wealth- and job-creators, and on low-income people who want affordable petrol and warm homes.
The green lobbyists don’t seem to care about those people, and prefer to focus on the plight of others living on the far side of the world. And here we see why working-class voters generally reject environmentalism. The problem is not the socialism so much as the globalism.
As Anatol Lieven has pointed out, discussions of climate change are dominated by people on the international left who generally favour open borders and multilateralism. Yet it is precisely these positions – inviting more immigration and diluting the sovereignty of nations in pan-national groups – that makes the environmentalists’ cause unpopular and therefore impossible.
Instead of pan-nationalism, the green movement needs more nationalism. This doesn’t mean isolation. The UK already leads the developed world in measures to reduce our impact on the planet, with a legally-binding commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Yet the UK emits just 1% of the world’s carbon. Our real contribution to the prevention of climate change will come through the influence we can exert on other countries. We need to help expedite the transformation of the big emitters – the US, India and China above all – through diplomatic and trade policy and through spreading the gains of our own world-leading green energy sector.
But even more important than global partnerships is our own strategy abroad. This should be explicitly to reduce the threats posed by climate change to the security of the UK.
The fact of man-made climate change is no longer in question among scientists, although its extent, our capacity to affect it, and the costs of action are properly the subject of political dispute. It does appear mankind is in trouble, however. In Paris in 2016, world leaders at the ‘21st Conference of the Parties’ (COP21) agreed to measures that on the most hopeful scientific predictions will limit the rise in global temperature to a little over 3 degrees by 2100. Even this modest rise would raise sea levels by six metres, drowning the world’s coastal cities.
Clearly we need to decarbonise the world’s economy as quickly as we can, consistent with the livelihoods of the population. This won’t be easy. To meet the UK’s own target of net zero by 2050, we need to reduce our emissions by 11 per cent a year. The last year has seen the virtual shut-down of large parts of the economy, with offices closed and greatly reduced travel by car and plane. Emissions fell by only eight per cent over this period.
Net zero need not be as painful as this implies. We don’t need to close the economy. We need to replace our energy sources with cleaner ones, and insulate our buildings against energy loss. But we do need to take action, at home and abroad, that will cost money and effort; and action abroad that could cost the lives of British soldiers. We need to do this because climate change is not just a moral crisis – an imperative for all humankind to address – but a security threat for the UK.
The relation of climate change and security is not observed enough. Yet the most obvious effect of the sort of catastrophic rises in sea levels predicted at COP21 is enormous political instability. Conservative predictions cited by Lieven suggest that on current trends 50 million Africans could be displaced by 2050. Refugees will place impossible strains on weak African states, with greater likelihood of war and terrorism, including in the West. Many refugees will head north. There is a real prospect that western Europe will be overwhelmed by a migration crisis in the coming decades that dwarfs in volume the number of refugees arriving from the Middle East in recent years.
This, not the plight of polar bears or indeed the plight of fishing communities in the global South, is the case for action on climate change. And this is the deal that the political Right in the UK needs to strike with the political Left. Climate change must be tackled primarily as a security challenge. The Right will help save the planet if the Left will help save the nation.
‘Environmental nationalism’ starts very close to home. We need a major investment in border security, and in the Royal Navy in particular. Just as the navy once disrupted slave traders off West Africa now they must disrupt the trade in trafficked migrants across the Mediterranean and the English Channel – natural borders which must be reinforced with rigour and without handwringing.
And beyond the borders of Britain and Europe, we need a muscular foreign policy that assertively supports good government in the developing world, and proactively engages where bad government enables terrorism and security threats to seed and germinate. We need to lay the ghost of the British Empire not by withdrawing from Africa but by acting in partnership with democratic governments there and with other Western nations to mitigate the effects of climate change and its associated disruption.
We could do worse than start with the old Empire, now the Commonwealth, and strengthen our commitment to the security and prosperity of Anglophone Africa. The UK can offer a better deal to those countries than the ‘debt servitude’, a modern form of colonialism, imposed by China. To this end we need a properly resourced and properly unified defence, development, diplomatic and trade strategy.
This won’t be cheap. Targets of 0.7% of GDP for development and 2% for defence (our commitments to the UN and to NATO respectively) will almost certainly be inadequate. Before increasing them we need to make sure we spend current development and defence budgets, both notoriously wasteful, better than we have in the past. But increases must come.
In addition to these expensive commitments, we have some hugely valuable assets whose deployment is negligibly cheap, including our arts and sports, our legal system, our universities and our science base. We are good at multilateralism, and could play a useful role in framing the world’s approaches to the new issues of internet regulation, the ethics of AI or the management of space.