1. Austin Williams, The Enemies of Progress - The Dangers of Sustainability, Exeter, Imprint Academic, Societas, 2008
2. Kate Trant and Austin Williams, The macro world of micro cars, London, Black Dog, 2004
3. Nick Rosen, How to Live off-grid, London, Doubleday, 2007, with details posted here
4. Richard Buckminster Fuller, Nine Chains to the Moon, New York, Anchor Books, part of Doubleday, 1971, first published in 1938
5. Austin Williams, 'Zen and the Art of Life-Cycle Maintenance', Chapter 2 in Ian Abley and James Heartfield, editors, Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Chichester, Wiley-Academy, 2001, p 42 to 51
6. Hugh Montgomery, Project Genie, sponsored by the BT Better World Campaign
7. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, Edinburgh, London, New York, Melbourne, Cannongate, 2007
8. Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Forging a New Common Purpose, London, Earthscan, 1992
9. Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth: The planetary emergency of Global Warming and what we can do about it, London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006
10. Richard Nixon, Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, 22 January 1970, available through The American Presidency Project
Austin Williams unpicks Sustainability to identify eight Enemies of Progress
Austin Williams does much more than identify eight disgusting flavours of environmentalist, which he achieves with characteristic acuteness. The Enemies of Progress - The Dangers of Sustainability explains why these environmentalists should be considered bad taste by anyone interested in universal human progress in the twenty-first century. (1) They are:
'Not for environmentalists the audacious, progressive, explorative, human endeavour.' (p 152) These "greens" put nature first, and humans are relegated to a miserable second.
Austin's 153 pages of well written and well referenced argument is refreshing to read, as he stands up for the primacy of humanity and human potential. The Enemies of Progress is a "must read" for all those who want to do more than merely hope that '... the ideology of sustainable development may yet prove to be unsustainable.' (p 13) Hope is shown to be insufficient. The progressive's enemies abound.
The New Parochialists reject human mobility, and for the sake of the planet insist on the virtues of living within one locality. For a friend of progress '... mobility is an unmitigated good.' (33)
Austin sensibly notes that '... the early morning commute by car is an easy target because it is difficult to claim that the commuter's journey is a great voyage of discovery, or an Enlightenment project for the right to travel.' He likes cars, (2) but his point is that vehicles provide mobility, which is why "greens" don't like mechanised transport of any technical sophistication. Mundane commuting by car is considered anti-social by the New Parochialists, but '... has its merits over the often sweaty reality of public transport.' (p 20) Yet even if we all only travelled by public transport that would be too mobile for parochial "greens". They want travel to be for the minority with '... a higher moral purpose.' (p 24)
The contemporary discussion about transport is not a technical one, as Austin is keen to point out. 'Technophiles miss the point: they think that it is the mechanisms of mobility - rather than mobility itself - that is under attack.' (p 31) If we could beat the New Parochialists, and establish a human centred attitude to travel, whenever congestion frustrated mobility '... the progressive solution would be to plan to provide more roads as well as more and better public transport links.' (p 22)
The Opt-Outs are more modern than Hippie "drop-outs". Typically rejecting universal provision of mains utilities they are prone to fetishise producing the energy they consume by privately owned "renewable" means, '... oblivious to the well-documented inefficiencies involved in alternative energy generation.' Austin is clear that '... microgeneration has become more than just an energy policy'. (p 37) It is anti-social.
Microgeneration is a denial of the social division of labour in energy production. The Opt-Outs '... seem to have a sneaky regard for the cruel physical exertions of cheap labour.' (p 45) Austin particularly criticises Opt-Outer Nick Rosen, author of How to Live off-grid, (3) for ignoring that many around the world '... just haven't been offered the chance to opt in.' (p 46) A progressive would extend the division of labour through industry, '... demanding more energy to create a better world.' (p 52)
The Limit Setters have highly influenced and are most evident in the architectural profession. The idea that development should respect natural limits '... has resulted in a crisis in the architectural profession,' in which architects pussyfoot around for the least damaging way to build a house. (p 55) As the former technical editor of the Architects' Journal Austin is at the forefront of criticising architectural naturalism, and the resultant obsession with counting the carbon in construction activity and building usage supposed to contribute towards climate change:
'Practically all architectural debate now centres on zero emissions and environmental auditing: from green roofs to brownfields; from no-car housing to solar panels; from urban compaction to microflats; from mud-bricks to local labour, from Eco-Homes to Home Improvement Packs. Carbon reduction is king but no-one really knows what it all means... architects are becoming polarised into adopting either the role of guilt-ridden apologists or eco-zealots. At every turn, the very thing that architects do is being cited as inherently harmful.' (p 60)
Austin refuses the naturalism of the Limit Setters, and advocates a humanist sense of purpose in architecture. He pointedly says '... this book doesn't explore climate change per se. This is because it is considerably low down on my list of things-to-worry-about.' (p 8) Architects and engineers have always sought the efficiency of achieving more with less, but that has never meant achieving zero for people. He recognises that when designers most interested in pursuing efficiency to meet human demands, such as Richard Buckminster Fuller, (4) once talked of "doing more with less", that was '... a starting point for doing yet more.' (p 62) A solid point long made, (5) made well again in The Enemies of Progress, and turned against the False "Progressives".
'We have to see potential gains in human development, rather than potential harms.' Adding that '... not only is it right to experiment with new forms, processes, and materials, it is essential, regardless of their environmental provenence.' (p 72)
The Indoctrinators are truly loathsome "greens" in the way they work hard to inculcate a sense of self-loathing in young minds. Rather than encourage the disciplines of critical thought about complex issues Teachers find '... it is much easier to invade adults' lives using their own children.' (p 85) Austin is not being alarmist in recognising this cowardly but nonetheless authoritarian willingness to manipulate children, to manipulate adults, as a real danger of sustainability. Indoctrinators like Hugh Montgomery, a Cardiovascular Geneticist at University College London, and eco-pin-up for the Science Museum, are at the cutting edge of this widespread effort to tell a simple story of global warming. One in which parents are ruining the future for their children:
'There are 3 million children in the UK aged between 7 and 11. They have influence over 29 million adults - that's just under half of the UK population! When combined, the individual actions that Project Genie encourages will have a substantial impact on helping to save our childrens planet.' (6)
The despicable Montgomery and his acolytes are funded by BT, through www.btbetterworld.com/genie, to offer a programme of rewards to encourage children, teachers, schools and those in "parenting and caring roles" to point the finger at any grown up still thinking that personal freedoms and human progress matter more than turning the lights off and never going abroad. Project Genie is in the Hackney school my children go to, and occupies the time that should be devoted to their education with a simple lie about the evils of progress through industrial advance and social organisation. When the British National Party tried to promote racism outside school gates in the 1970s there was outrage from the same sorts of liberals who now consider it a moral imperative to spread a "green" but otherwise colour-blind anti-humanism inside the school. Austin is right to see the Indoctrinators as eco-fascists. (p 85)
The Pessimists are typically those who look with dread at the progress being made in Brazil, Russia, India and China. Austin instead looks forward, so that as '... society materially develops, the demands for a free, democratic electorate gets louder and harder to ignore.' (p 103) It is clear that '... to improve the material lot of a society, to free people from the constraints of nature, to increase their socialisation and to provide them with the physical means of not having to be reliant on the whims of weather, land and seasons is exactly what progress is. Almost inevitably, with that, comes social advancement.' (p 106) More people demanding more is a means to realising progress, and a measure of progress being made. (p 149)
The New Colonialists are not content to be passively pessimistic, fearful of a more populous future, but actively aim to lower growth and slow industrialisation. Austin observes a clear contrast, so far, between the environmentalism that the already industrialised nations would have Africa and South America persist with, and the investments in much needed infrastructure that notably China is willing to fund in exchange for access to vast, untapped resources. 'It is as a revolt against this stasis that the underdeveloped world is tiring of Western intervention.' (p 126)
The Misanthropists are then identified in the West, as America in particular shows increasing unease with "modernity". Austin notes '... the assertion that sustainability plays any significant part at all in American society will be greeted with incredulity, especially by the environmental hardcore in Britain.' (p 127) In 2007 the Presidential hopeful Barack Obama published The Audacity of Hope, (7) and '... recognised environmentalism as the audacious consensus-forming issue he had hoped for.' (p 130) The administration of George Bush is already investing heavily in eco-tech. (p 129) British "greens" who do understand this can only envy their fellow Misanthopists, Republican and Democrat, across the Atlantic. In 1992 Al Gore imagined Earth in the Balance, (8) long before his An Inconvenient Truthworried about a planetary emergency of Global Warming and what "We" can do about it. (9)
Austin asks who is this "We" that needs a new common purpose in environmentalism, '... founded on the notion that humans are responsible for harming the planet (regardless of the counterclaim that humans can repair it).' (p 131) Obama, Bush, Gore, and long before them the experimental environmentalist Nixon, are "Them", not "Us".
'Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.' (10)
Nixon could not have abandoned a commitment to growth in his obviously rhetorical turn to naturalism, just as the US economy faltered, while simultaneously bombing Vietnam and Cambodia in exaggerated fear of communism. Since the end of that Cold War era in 1989 Western world leaders, equally capable of prosecuting foreign wars for spurious reasons, are looking for a consensual "We" that can remoralise capitalism. They may imagine they advocate freedoms, but they undoubtedly prefer the organising principle of rescuing the planet from progressively demanding populations. They are Austin's Misanthropists and they have greened capitalism in ways that Nixon couldn't imagine.
It is in this regard that The Enemies of Progress is most insightful, when concluding with a warning about The False "Progressives". Austin recognises that '... sustainable development, masquerading as progress, is everywhere,' and that '... nowhere is the word "development" printed without its adjectival corrective.' (p 7) He is most scathing of the eminently profitable technophile spin being put on the anti-humanism of a greened capitalism. "Business as usual", (p 148) projected as if in the interests of "future generations", in which '... sustainability does seem to provide a way of giving Western economies a much-needed economic boost.' (p 149) But this is still not attractive.
Green is mean. 'Whatever techno-fixes are used to substantiate their claims to be the gatekeepers of the future, environmentalists have a singular problem, which is that their underlying message is an unequivocally miserable one.' (p 146) Austin appreciates the need to reclaim the future from all kinds of mean greenies, who combine to count as the enemies of progress in any number of audaciously hybrid ways.
Austin wants a future in which society develops to '... provide for all needs and desires.' (p 151) This progressive ambition fraught with difficulties contrasts to an Obama-like hope of a consensus, which is at best vacuous, and at worst contains the dangers of sustainability.
When it comes to making progress happen against environmentally minded opponents, as Austin says:
'We really have to listen not just to the warm words, but we have to unpick the underlying message.' (p 148)
Austin succeeds in doing that in The Enemies of Progress - The Dangers of Sustainability. His analysis should be discussed widely and in depth.
Ian Abley 06.05.2008
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