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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Who's the establishment now?

How climate converted the greens to the argument from authority

Walter Russell Mead has a powerful essay in the American Interest online about how the environmental movement suddenly turned into the establishment. Have you noticed the irony of being told to shut up and trust the experts by the likes of Greenpeace? Nothing is quite so amusing about the modern environmental movement as its sudden volte-face on the argument from authority: from `don't believe the experts' to `do as you are told'.

I suppose one should not be surprised. Every movement, from Christianity to Bolshevism, had the same transformation. How the church went from being a radical insurgent organization that gave a voice to the poor to one that insisted on papal infallibility without a backward glance always struck me as entertaining.

Mead argues that the entire environmental movement was founded on not trusting experts:

An increasingly skeptical public started to notice that 'experts' weren't angels descending immaculately from heaven bearing infallible revelations from God.  They were fallible human beings with mortgages to pay and funds to raise. They disagreed with one another and they colluded with their friends and supporters like everyone else. They often produced research that agreed with the views of those who funded their work (tobacco companies, builders of nuclear power plants, NGOs and foundations).

Whereas now:

When it comes to climate change, the environmental movement has gotten itself on the wrong side of doubt. It has become the voice of the establishment, of the tenured, of the technocrats. It proposes big economic and social interventions and denies that unintended consequences and new information could vitiate the power of its recommendations.  It knows what is good for us, and its knowledge is backed up by the awesome power and majesty of the peer-review process. The political, cultural, business and scientific establishments stand firmly behind global warming today - just as they once stood firmly behind Robert Moses, urban renewal, and big dams.

They tell us it's a sin to question the consensus, the sign of bad moral character to doubt.

Bambi, look in the mirror.  You will see Godzilla looking back.

Back in the 1970s, I hugely enjoyed the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang by the eco-activist Edward Abbey. In that book, four unlikely comrades come together in a common cause - to blow up billboards, sabotage bulldozers and destroy dams to save nature. If you were to rewrite that book today (and I have to admit I am tempted) the comrades will be blowing up wind turbines, sabotaging biofuel plants and putting up placards at organic farms about their wasteful use of land.

In my book I argue that expertise, innovation and intelligence are bottom-up phenomena, dispersed through society and shared among many brains. The `cloud' is only the latest and strongest example of this. The top-down environmental establishment is on the wrong side of history.