Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, October 31 2009


brendan o'neill
BRENDAN O’NEILL: Editor of Spiked magazine and outspoken climate change sceptic

You’re not a climate change denier, but you believe the effects of climate change have been grossly exaggerated. Is that correct?
Yes, environmentalism has become the dominant ideology of our age. It is an ideology of limits, restraint and caution. Humans are having an impact on our climate, that’s pretty clear. But environmentalism has turned into an extremely illiberal moral crusade. So who is responsible for this distortion?
There’s a real club mentality between climate scientists. They know that if they do their research a certain way, they’ll end up making the front pages and being quoted by Al Gore. Radical environmentalists present themselves as outsiders. But in fact, they’re taken very seriously and have the ear of practically every government in the world.

Surely the major vested interests are on the sceptic side of the debate?
It’s true that Exxon Mobil, for example, funds certain groups that question climate science. But it just doesn’t compare the vast amounts of money being poured into environmentalist campaigns. Climate change sceptics are definitely in a minority.

But what ulterior motive could environmentalists have for pretending things are worse than they are?
Environmentalists always refer to The Science, in capital letters. It’s almost like The Gospel, the truth we all must live by. This is a very moralistic campaign about demonising mankind’s gumption in industrialising the world. It reminds me of the church, a hundred years ago, telling people that it is godly to be poor. They’re rehabilitating the sin of gluttony in language like “sustainable development” and “carbon footprint”.

You don’t believe we should reduce our carbon emissions?
It’s no coincidence that the emphasis on reducing carbon emissions has come at precisely the same time as Western countries are manufacturing less and, therefore, producing less carbon. The flip side of this is that more productive countries, like China and India, are being presented as evil and dirty. But in the past 25 years, Chinese industrialisation has been responsible for 64% of all poverty reduction in the world. I think the focus should be on investment in nuclear technology and geo-engineering. Because wind and wave power are never going to help industrialise Africa, or ensure that everyone in India can take as many cheap flights as we do.

So you have no time for energy saving lightbulbs, weatherising your home, energy audits, recycling, hybrid cars etc.?
(laughs) That stuff is a load of nonsense. It has no impact whatsoever.

Aren’t you a bit like the flatmate who refuses to help clean up since the landlord is a bastard and he’s going to keep the deposit anyway?
No, I don’t think the solution is to do nothing. It’s bizarre though because, on the one hand, environmentalists tell us we face the worst disaster in human history, worse than the Nazis. But then they tell us we can rectify the situation by changing lightbulbs or putting a thermostat in our house. There’s a real disconnect there.

Surely the British people who cooperated with blackouts and dug vegetable patches and so forth contributed, in some small way, to the defeat of fascism?
Well, that’s a very good point. But it’s worth remembering that many of the austerity measures imposed in Britain were very unpopular. Besides, just changing our lightbulbs would never have defeated the Nazis!

I tried to think earlier of any universally accepted precept in history that didn’t later turn out to be flawed. The best I came up with was “Don’t eat the yellow snow…”
(laughs) Exactly, I’m instinctively suspicious of consensus. People say, oh, you’re a contrarian, you’re just trying to wind people up. But I think it’s healthy to suspicious of consensus.

Would it be fair to say that some of your bedfellows, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic, are unashamedly philistines and corporate shills…
Oh absolutely, but I don’t consider those people my bedfellows.

Are you uncomfortable though being on the same side of the debate as the “Drill baby, drill…” lady?
Yes, a lot of the critics of environmentalism are quite crazy. Some of them believe Greenpeace is secretly running the world. They don’t understand that environmentalism has really been embraced by governments as a smokescreen for economic decline.

Are you worried at all that if environmental catastrophe does proceed, your children and grandchildren will call you to account – as Al Gore has suggested?
Environmentalists always claim to speak on behalf unborn generations, which I think is really cynical and undemocratic. If we continue down the road we’re on, where development and progress are portrayed as bad things, I think future generations are more likely to upbraid us for being so meek and cautious, for accepting environmentalist dogma when we could have put the interests of mankind first.