Rupert and the bears

We are coming close to a time when our entire civilised and relatively liberated way of life is threatened needlessly by people who feel themselves morally superior and therefore qualified to control us.

I have always tried to avoid criticism of individuals, because I am aware that we all have faults and make mistakes. But it is impossible to express the disquiet I feel effectively without personalising it. So let’s invent a man who has high principles, is academically in the top few per cent of the country, and who is by all accounts a pleasant and agreeable chap.

Let’s call him Rupert Read. He is a professor of philosophy, a Green Party councillor who failed to get elected as a Green MEP and is now standing for Parliament. By the time you read this he may have been elected, or he may not. (Not, in fact. He failed even to beat the UKIP candidate.) He is a vegan, a former hunt saboteur and, he tells us, a “frequent participant in (animal rights) demos over the years at places such as Huntingdon Life Sciences”.

What is there in Dr Read to object to?

Well, let’s start by observing that academic brilliance does not necessarily coincide with common sense and good judgement. It can do, but it is by no means the same thing, as those who head up university schools will quickly tell you.

What about high principles? On Dr Read’s website he quotes J K Galbraith, who says: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

He clearly intends this as a barb directed at his natural opponents, but it actually fits himself very well. He should perhaps listen to Oscar Wilde: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

This is precisely what Dr Read does. It is presumably why he got into politics. Although many electors may find his stance on hunt sabotage and animal rights demos morally dubious because it seems to put animals before people, he does not hesitate to promote his views, and he has done so on Norwich City Council as a “key mover”, in his own words.

I am not suggesting for a moment that Dr Read is a violent man. He is not. I am suggesting simply that he has very strong ideas which he would like everyone to adopt. There is nothing wrong with that, until he is in a position to make us adopt them, or to change our lives to suit him.

Many readers will still feel, I’m sure, that they have no problem with what Dr Read advocates – and they are glad that, thanks to him, Norwich is a “foie-gras-free city”. Saving animals from pain or even indignity is a laudable thing, as long as you fully understand the implications, and have discovered precisely what is going on, and what the alternative is.

Nothing wrong with being a vegan either, except of course that it is extremely uncompromising and makes little allowance for other views.

But Dr Read now has bigger fish to fry. He has climate change. He used to insist on calling it global warming, but now he has reverted to climate change, because the world has not warmed in the last decade – an uncomfortable fact, but one that has not affected Dr Read’s stance at all. Holy writ is, after all, holy writ.

According to him, and in line with Al Gore, the leader of his religion, the debate is over. He has taken up a fundamentalist view with regard to climate change, which is that we caused it, and we can put it right. I suspect both these statements are probably false, but of course Dr Read is entitled to believe them. What he is not entitled to do is say the debate is over, because it is not.

If you say the debate is over, that automatically disenfranchises everyone who disagrees with you. That is not democracy: it is dictatorship. It means that the Government can put seriously ineffective windfarms wherever they like – or in Energy Secretary Ed Miliband’s worrying words, “persuade people to accept them” – and introduce all sorts of taxes and demands that nibble away at the freedom of the individual, and the individual’s castle, or the heating of it.

Dr Read, it seems, is not too concerned about the freedom of the individual in this area. In a letter to his local paper this week he writes: “I would persistently call for Britain’s economy to be placed ‘on a war footing’ now to create a million new jobs in the Green sector and to safeguard our kids’ futures. This would both help raise employment and stabilise and tackle dangerous climate change.” (Eastern Daily Press, July 14)

The phrase “war footing” is a worrying one. Could it mean creating a situation where the Government can do more or less anything it likes, regardless of the voters, to ensure the country’s survival and “our kids’ futures”? If so, it’s rather scary.

Dr Read has made a number of promises on his website, centred on his being politically “clean, positive and honest”. He promises not to “scaremonger in ways that may frighten the most vulnerable members of our society”. His motives may well be pure (he is a pleasant chap), but if so he is deceiving himself: in the eyes of many he is scaremongering about climate change, and he certainly frightens me (though not because I believe him).

Is he being strictly honest in saying that we can stabilise and tackle climate change? Whether such a feat is even possible is very much open to debate, but it suits Dr Read to say that it is possible – and for nobody else to be allowed to say that it isn’t.

Last month an expert on polar bears was prevented from contributing to a meeting designed to produce one of many orchestrated reports that are being prepared to stoke up public alarm in preparation for the UN’s major conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.

He has been studying polar bears for 30 years and is an acknowledged expert, but unfortunately he has observed that polar bears numbers are not declining, but are much higher than they were 30 years ago. He was told that his views were “counter to human-induced climate change” and “extremely unhelpful”, and his presence was not required. The bear facts did not bear examination, you might say.

I wonder what Dr Read thinks about polar bears. One thing is certain: he would not eat them.