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Green Philosophy Hardcover – April 1, 2011
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About the Author
Roger Scruton is a writer and philosopher who has written on aesthetics, politics, music and architecture. He is Research Professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Washington and Oxford and is Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. His most recent books include A Dictionary of Political Thought; England: An Elegy; Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde; News from Somewhere: On Settling A Political Philosophy; Gentle Regrets and On Hunting.
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Scruton is a Burkean, approving of the 'little platoon' approach to society, with organisation coming from the bottom up rather than the top down. An ethos that the Conservatives tried to enshrine in their 'big society' 2010 election manifesto, not particularly convincingly.
With characteristic learning and clarity, Scruton invokes many references from culture, politics and philosophy to support his case. Big state solutions to environmental challenges fail as they are too remote from the causes of the problem and often invoke regulations that make it worse. For example, after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch offered the USA the use of ships that have the technology to extract oil from seawater and return nearly pure water to the oceans. But because the returned water did not meet the EPA's stringent purity guidelines, the technology was prohibited, therefore the problem worsened.
Another example which Scruton details is the role that agricultural subsidies play in favouring agribusiness over the small farmer. Many small farmers in Britain have been unable to survive in such a climate, and much responsible stewardship of the land, often down several generations, has been lost.
What is needed, argues Scruton, is for smaller scale organisations to reclaim control. People are less likely to spoil their village if they know they will be responsible for clearing up the mess.
It is probable that Scruton's argument works best for relatively isolated rural communities. How it can apply to the city, or the large industrial areas predominant in many developing countries, it is harder to see. To an extent, Scruton concedes this point, though does try and work through a tentative solution in an appendix which argues for a system of justice where polluters bear the cost of their output.
Realistically, the challenge of environmental degradation that frequently crosses borders is likely to remain a problem for the foreseeable future. Scruton argues for a flat rate carbon tax, the proceeds to go towards funding research into renewable energy sources, which is something David Cameron has recently turned in the other direction, saying he wants to cut green taxes to reduce energy bills. The world's population is growing, and people need to be fed, sheltered and heated. Little platoons may only get us so far, but they are a start, and their role in the fabric of civic associations should not be underestimated.
What is difference is the originality of the solutions. The present methods have failed, and by the end of the book, you are sure his wisdom won't.