The public wants more eco-bullying, shows Fabian Society ‘research’

The ‘prevailing orthodoxy’ (or ‘the zeitgeist’) is much like a rainbow: wherever you happen to stand, it always seems to be somewhere else. The term would never be used in sentences like: ‘My own views are fully in accordance with the prevailing orthodoxy’, which sounds just as unlikely as ‘that rainbow here right next to me’.

But with all that in mind, I would have thought that in our day and age, climate alarmists could not possibly present their position as somehow challenging or thought-provoking. The Fairness Instinct, a new book by the Fabian Society, does just that.

The book presents the results of qualitative research, based on focus group interviews and discussions, on what drives attitudes towards environmental policies. The results are then converted into policy implications. The two central outcomes are:

  1. Climate policies are not sufficiently coercive, and

  2. The terms in which they are presented are not sufficiently moralistic.

The first finding is that even people who express a strong commitment to cutting their carbon emissions will generally fail to do so if they believe others are not doing the same. When it comes to changing lifestyles for the sake of the environment, people are so upset by free-riding that even a small number of free-riders can undermine everybody else’s willingness to cooperate: ‘The corollary to “I will if you will” is the paralysis implied by “I won’t until everyone else does”’ (p. 62). Or more to the point: ‘The Fabian research reveals that policy should be less about “nudging”, more about “pushing”, “kicking” and “shoving”. This was linked to respondents wanting to do the right thing […] but worrying that others would shirk their responsibilities and free-load’ (p. 67).

The second finding is that policymakers should stop trying to pitch carbon reduction strategies, such as home insulation or car-sharing, as a financially smart thing to do. Even if this strategy increased take-up in the short-run, it is argued, it is damaging to the cause in the longer run. Why? Because it appeals to selfish instincts. It is a strategy that takes place within the mindset of consumerism, which is precisely what needs to be overcome. It sends out the signal that it is OK to care about your wallet, that it is fine to be concerned about your personal finances – exactly the kind of mentality that the public has to be weaned off. So the message has to be ‘you’re evil if you fail to do X’, rather than ‘X will save you some money’.

Where have these people been over the past fifteen years? On the planet that I inhabit, the public has been scared witless over climate change, encouraged to feel guilty about almost everything. It was only when climate alarmism had fully gone mainstream that some politicians tried to phrase things in a more palatable language, trying to sound more positive and less miserable. But for the most part, the whole narrative of climate change has been one of guilt, fear and shame, not of saving £17.30 through installing treble-glazing.

Secondly, what exactly is ‘voluntary’, or mere nudging, in the current array of climate policies? Air passenger duty is not voluntary. Fuel duties are not voluntary. The subsidisation of renewable energy, slapped on electricity bills, is not voluntary. The cost of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, slapped on the prices of many goods and services, is not voluntary either. As Matthew Sinclair shows, most green taxes and quasi-taxes are already above the most pessimistic estimates of the marginal social cost of carbon, so on Pigouvian grounds, they’re too high. And then there’s the knock-on cost of environmental regulation.

But there is one set of readers to whom I would still recommend the book: those who still delude themselves into believing that there is any conceivable level of green taxation and lifestyle regulation which environmentalists would ever consider ‘sufficient’.

Dr Kristian Niemietz is the IEA's Head of Political Economy. Kristian studied Economics at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Universidad de Salamanca, graduating in 2007 as Diplom-Volkswirt (≈MSc in Economics). During his studies, he interned at the Central Bank of Bolivia (2004), the National Statistics Office of Paraguay (2005), and at the IEA (2006). He also studied Political Economy at King's College London, graduating in 2013 with a PhD. Kristian previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Berlin-based Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF), and taught Economics at King's College London. He is the author of the books "Socialism: The Failed Idea That Never Dies" (2019), "Universal Healthcare Without The NHS" (2016), "Redefining The Poverty Debate" (2012) and "A New Understanding of Poverty" (2011).

7 thoughts on “The public wants more eco-bullying, shows Fabian Society ‘research’”

  1. Posted 04/05/2012 at 12:59 | Permalink

    If this is a moral duty, then there is little justification for coercive actions – they should try to persuade me. And perhaps we should be a little less dismissive when Anglican clergymen start changing all the light bulbs for energy-saving bulbs: given the degree of our ignorance about the future, morally that might be the right thing to do (though we should be questioning when the same clergymen start to campaign about legislation). I do, however, agree with the Fabians that the government should stop trying to persuade me that using the cheapest forms of energy is costing jobs and costing money. If the government is to use any argument it should be one of justice – “we are forcing you to do this because it is unjust that the next generation take the consequences of your actions”. We can then have a proper debate about it. If Clegg tells me that climate action is useful because it will create “green jobs” he is hardly likely to get my sympathy. If he comes up with a case that this is a really serious issue for the next generation, we should, at least, give it a hearing.

  2. Posted 04/05/2012 at 13:43 | Permalink

    A brilliant comment. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about not being able to feel guilty about SICC (Sun Induced Climate Change).

  3. Posted 07/05/2012 at 01:26 | Permalink

    The ‘green agenda’ is being pushed because : 1) It is EU policy. 2) It is the only job creation policy in the West.
    As manufacturing, and service jobs go to China, India etc. the Western leaders have no idea what to do…they dance to the tune of global business corporations; the European Countries cling together attempting to move huge %s of their populations to relative poverty with their austerity budgets, while the ‘future leaders’ of the post-democracy cream off tax payers money for their own use.
    Populations are not disinterested in politics, just sick of lies, corruption and representatives who are following their own agenda.
    Is it not obscene that jobs are moving from West to East because the Eastern Countries have large populations who can be readily exploited, made to work in sub-human conditions, to produce goods to further line the pockets of big business personnel/share holders and be sold back to the West? This is totally unacceptable. I am currently writing a few words on Reconfiguring Capitalism–focussing almost exclusively on the banks has been the big mistake!

  4. Posted 08/05/2012 at 07:36 | Permalink

    I agree with your article. You named the things pretty clearly. The problem is the current consumerist style of life. We can´t achieve a sufficient change by changing our habits about energy consumption or other environmentalist policies. The system needs a bigger change.
    We are slowly running out of resources (I recommend Which Resource Will Run Out First?), because our only goal is to increase our productivity. The word sustainability lost its sense because it is being used by almost all politicians in EU.

    We must look for a deeper and stable change in politics. To put extra green taxation on the citizens, while leave tax free pollution from the industry to achieve comparative advantage is not the way we wanna go.

  5. Posted 09/05/2012 at 06:09 | Permalink

    very good

  6. Posted 10/05/2012 at 07:44 | Permalink

    John B.: Are you sure you agree with my article?
    Amber Astron Christo: There is no such thing as a green job. It’s an urban legend. Suppose the government slaps £20 on your energy bill, to subsidise renewable energy. Some people will now find work producing solar panels, or putting up wind turbines. But you will have £20 less for other things. Lets say you cancel a restaurant visit, and some of your neighbours do the same. Then the restaurant will have to make a waitress or a cook redundant. No net job creation.

  7. Posted 10/05/2012 at 10:44 | Permalink

    I was expressing my frustration that ‘green issues’ are being pushed as a job creation exercise. There seems to be little else in terms of creating work. I am fully aware of the limitations. What I find frightening is that the Government/powers that be, seem to think we will be at the forefront of ‘green innovation’ and subsequently, as developing economies progress they will be a market for this innovation. I think that a naive assumption.
    As for moral issues: don’t believe the Government should be telling people what to do in their own homes. They are failing to deal with the real issues, and have open debate, re potential energy crisis and how to solve it. Carbon emissions have to be dealt with globally, or we are simply putting ourselves at massive disadvantage on the world stage, if businesses are constantly subject to endless new regulation in the current climate it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back’, especially for smaller Cos.
    However, I do believe that it is morally wrong to ‘rape’ the world of nonrenewable resources, and for rich exploit workers in poor countries by employing them in conditions that would never be tolerated in the West, and to make profit at their expense.

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