How to think seriously about the planet
Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously About the Planet by Roger ScrutonIt is true, as Scruton spends the first chapters arguing, that environmentalism does not have to be (and has not always been) the sole domain of the political left. It is also true that conservatives, as their parties stand now, need a coherent framework for protecting the environment that complements their own political philosophy and values. Unfortunately, this book does not provide a coherent or useful alternative. It at first headed in a good direction, and even his chapter on climate change ends ultimately with the conclusion that action is needed, despite the fact that he seems to be a sceptic about anthropogenic contributions. Though his citations are dubious and I disagree with his interpretations, at least he forms a logical argument for action that could be used with other sceptics.
When discussing the domain of science (climate change included but not exclusively in that domain), Scruton is clearly out of his depth, and I found myself shaking my head fairly frequently, both at the citations he used and his interpretations of the science. There are contradictions, which I did not expect from a philosopher, but perhaps most frustrating were the number of strawmen he produced, only to tear them down in support of his view. For example, his view of modern environmentalism seems to be constructed almost entirely from his perception of the international NGOs, and he spends a fair bit of time arguing for the value of small, local groups such as the Womens Institute, which he argues have done more for the environment than any of these NGOs, which he believes have done harm. He also seems to have missed most of the academic literature in environmental governance because the strawman he constructs lacks all of the limbs of recent literature around adaptive governance, co-managment, and co-production of knowledge. He claims the environmental movement is always focuses on punitive legislation and centralised action, but these literatures I mention argue the opposite and some are in fact built on Ostroms work (which he clearly loves). One wonders if his entire view of the left is built on personal interactions with NGOs and news stories about environmental activists. The action of environmental professionals and environmental researchers - many of whom have a political philosophy on the left - are completely left out of his depictions.
I thought, in reading the early chapters, that he was going to use some of what we know from behavioural economics and cognitive psychology to design appropriate solutions in service of his aim, but to my disappointment, he did not. Instead, he describes a philosophers view of human nature, accepts that as truth, and proceeds with the book on that basis. I still so badly would like to see a book that tackles the same aim of this book, but uses research from social science to support it. Having a co-author who understands the environmental sciences would also be a big bonus. Perhaps most puzzling part of this book, however, is his chapter about how environmental philosophy cannot offer answers to our environmental woes. In particular, he has a major problem with utilitarians in general and Peter Singer quite specifically. But the irony of it all is that the book offers a green philosophy; precisely what he says cannot provide answers. Perhaps it is only *his* philosophy, and not the philosophies of others, that can provide a framework for action.
Ultimately, the book ends with what Scruton calls modest proposals, which I will not give away, but which I could have predicted from reading page 1. They heavily rely on extreme decentralisation, the ability of people to work at small scales simply because they love their local communities, markets, and protecting the aesthetics of the country side. It all sounds rather lovely in one way or another, until you realise how absurd some of it is. I would particularly have liked to see him apply the principle of subsidiarity instead of almost blanket decentralisation, as there is no real consideration of the scale of problems and how they do (or do not) align with effective action.
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Roger Scruton is one of Britain's leading thinkers. In this book he offers a radically different approach to the planet's most urgent crisis. He demonstrates that.
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He shows that rather than entrusting the environment to unwieldy NGOs and international committees, we must assume personal responsibility and foster local sovereignty. Roger Scruton. Atlantic Books. January Find this book. Scruton is an English philosopher and writer who has published widely on the topic of conservatism and political philosophy. Green Philosophy is both admirably structured and well referenced — it is obvious Scruton has read more classic environmental texts than many of us could ever hope to read.