Nothing produces true believers today quite like the environmental movement. Gluing yourself to London or pouring soup over a priceless painting is all in a day’s work. For your green stunt to stand out, you need to do something eye-catchingly disgusting such as pouring human faeces over a statue of Captain Tom.
For conservatives, it may be tempting to dismiss green activism as a stalking-horse for communism, a movement that has certainly produced enough ideologues in the last century. And it’s true that a great deal of green activism is broadly Left-aligned, while for much of my lifetime, economic and technological growth has been broadly associated with a Right-liberal worldview espoused by Margaret Thatcher. Recently that has roared to life again under the questionable guidance of Liz Truss, with her rants against the “enemies of growth”, a group, in her view, that includes environmentalists.
It seems that defending trees in particular drives many “enemies of growth” to extremes. One famous Left-wing tree hugger and enemy of Thatcherite growth, “Swampy”, was briefly famous in 1997 for living in a tunnel under the Newbury bypass site, to protect ancient woodland from being destroyed.
But despite what Right-liberals say, “tree hugging” — and direct action — is by no means confined to the Left. Once you leave the relatively safe confines of Roger Scruton and promoting land stewardship (like our King), a green movement shorn of Left-wing shibboleths reveals two things.
First, just how much of the moral framework we still inhabit, even in a secularised world, is unreflectingly Christian. And second, that contrary to how it may seem from a glance at the self-styled pagans of Left-leaning green activism, in truth one of the last remaining bulwarks against genuine paganism may be those remnants of Christian thought that persist in the progressive moral framework.
As many recent writers have observed, the roots both of liberalism and its mutant child, progressivism, lie in our Christian heritage. Nor, as thinkers such as Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford have argued, is it easily possible to separate our extractive relation to technology — the principal driver of climate change — from that heritage.
Nowhere is this revealed more clearly than the points where the green movement overlaps with the far-Right. For where environmentalism is concerned, in truth, Left and Right are obsolete. Instead, the real battles concern deep questions such as our standing relative to other species, the nature and value of progress and technology, the value of human freedom, and the value of humans ourselves. Most of this, whether we like it or not, still takes place within the dying embers of Christianity. And the coming battle over climate policy is fundamentally over which parts of this Christian heritage we’ll end up sacrificing, as we confront the end of cheap energy and never-ending growth.
Two decades before Swampy hit the headlines for burrowing under the Newbury bypass site, one Theodore Kaczynski was roaming the woodlands around his area of rural Montana on a campaign of environmental sabotage. His methods, though, were orders of magnitude more focused and brutal. According to letters he later wrote from prison, Kaczynski spent two decades as a proto-Swampy on steroids: stringing wires across motorbike trails, burning logging machinery, pouring sugar into the tanks of motorised vehicles and smashing up holiday cabins, in a one-man campaign against what he called the “octopus” of technology.