On the rise of eco-authoritarianism

Alex Klaushofer
4 min readNov 13, 2023
A spring fete in England. Photo by Simon Ingram

Little Green Alex, who has lived in me since childhood is an instinctual, inconsistent, non-ideological kind of Green: she gets upset about plastic, detests waste in general and talks to animals and plants. As an adult she’s uninterested in metrics and is largely immune to corporate jargon such as ‘sustainability’. In recent years, observing the environmental movement’s growing predilection for top-down measures that cost ordinary people dear but benefit the powerful, she has undergone something of a loss of innocence.

The first red flag came with talk of a ‘health passport’ from the World Economic Forum which would make the screening of blood a condition of crossing borders and attending large public events. You could almost miss how the video, published in July 2020, moves seamlessly from infectious disease to ‘mandatory carbon offsetting for each of its passengers … to preserve the environmental benefits of reduced air travel’.

What?

Returning to Britain this year after a two-year absence, I was baffled to find the authorities imposing a raft of new restrictions on movement that would stifle local businesses, increase social isolation and impoverish the poorest. Councils were using the planters they’d installed to ‘protect’ residents from Covid-19 to create Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, permanent roadblocks which they claimed were a traffic-calming measure demanded by locals. In fact, the idea of LTNs came from central government. On 27th March 2020, as Britain was entering its first-ever lockdown, the Transport Minister announced a surprising new approach. ‘We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network,’ said Grant Shapps. It was followed by the launch of the Active Travel programme, which gave councils the funding to trial LTNs, penalising them if they stopped the trial ‘too soon’.

Three years on, councils are attributing the need to restrict the movement of vehicles to Net Zero as well as congestion and pollution. It’s important to understand that Net Zero is very new, a mere baby of an idea that has risen from the backwaters of academic science to become a mainstay of government policy in less than a decade. (You can find a short history of Net Zero here.) In 2019, the UK became the first G7 country to legislate for Net Zero by 2050 and its domestic strategy, launched in October 2021, committed the country to banning the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, with restrictions on what energy sources homes can use by 2035.

On the back of this came all sorts of horrors for a population struggling with Long Lockdown: talk of banning wood stoves amid rapidly escalating energy bills and the promise of prison sentences for having the wrong kind of Energy Performance Certificate. I barely recognised a country whose government, without any public debate, felt entitled to impose measures that could bankrupt households. What was going on in my formerly reasonable homeland?

Meanwhile, influenced by thinkers such as Charles Eisenstein and direct experience with the non-human world, my own perspective on the world had undergone a profound shift. I’d become convinced that a deeper relationship with nature was the way — the only happy way — forward for humanity. The growing authoritarianism of Western nations which transferred even more wealth and power to governments and corporations while creating poverty and isolation for ordinary people, was taking us in the opposite direction. It seemed to me that the measures being imposed in the name of Climate were, far from being solutions to the environmental crisis, symptoms of the problem that had created it.

So when I heard about the Local Futures conference in Bristol, I signed up straight away. I had read Helena Norberg-Hodge’s book Ancient Futures and found entirely its depiction of life in a Tibetan community with a critique of global economy entirely in keeping with Little Green Alex’s way of seeing the world. But conferences comprised largely of the Green Movement were another matter. From what I had seen, British Greens seemed to be split between a local, nature-based approach that focused on self-sufficiency and a climate-led agenda that took away more power from people. Sometimes it seemed as if that split coexisted within the same individuals who wanted the first thing while supporting the second. Worse, the movement did not even seem to be aware of this tension: some people seemed not to know about the digitally-controlled existence on the horizon, and others clamoured for life-stifling restrictions on their fellow humans. In the wider world, meanwhile, it was clear that the public was getting increasingly angry about government impositions and that charges for using their cars and talk of compulsory heat pumps was turning them off environmentalism entirely.

Was the Green Movement divided or confused? A couple of attempts to discuss the issue with longstanding Greens, including a leading figure in British environmentalism who I happen to have known thirty years, foundered before they even got going. My concerns were dismissed as irrelevant or as a matter of conspiracy. And, as more and more mobility restrictions sprang up around the country, I was shocked to hear Green Party politicians and local activists repeat the new mantra: everyone, regardless of health, circumstances or the distance to be travelled, must now give up their cars and CYCLE.

So the Local Futures conference would be a kind of testing ground, a fertile territory in which I could explore where Greens’ true allegiances lay and how much potential there was for what Little Green Alex wanted to support when she grew up: a pro-human environmentalism.

This essay, with a report of the Local Futures conference, is continued on Substack.

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