"The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability"

"The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability"
Book published by Societas. Orders: http://www.imprint.co.uk/books/williams_enemies.html

Sustainable Indoctrination in Education

Here's my article in the Australian:


One response:
"Critical thinking... ie being able to identify the agenda (green or otherwise) underpinning claims... is one of the cornerstones of Sustainability Education... skills that Mr Williams obviously lacks himself or he wouldn't be spouting misinformed, biased claims".

discussing Progress on ABC Sydney

I nice interview with Paul Comrie-Thompson on "Counterpoint" for ABC Sydney; for which I thank him and the station:

Hear here: http://www.abc.net.au/cgi-bin/common/player_launch.pl

David Attenborough & the Optimum Population Trust

David Attenborough has become the patron of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). He says: “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more."


Finding that "the nation's favourite broadcaster" is a miserable Malthusian is a bit like hearing that your favourite uncle is a eugenicist, or something. But we shouldn't be shocked to see that some people genuinely follow the logic of sustainability. After all, for environmentalists and carbonistas: more people = more breathing = more energy consumption = more carbon use... and we all know that "more carbon is a BAD thing".

Ironically, the OPT still thinks that "the greens" refuse to acknowledge the issue and that the OPT are thinking the unthinkable. With Jonathon Porritt (patron, OPT) pushing his "Stop at Two" (two-child policy) and Sir Crispin Tickell (patron, OPT) Sir Crispin Tickell, suggesting that the desirable UK population should be around 20 million (currently 60 million). And Paul Erhlich arguing that the global population would only be sustainable at 1.5 billion (as opposed to the current 6+billion).

All of these reactionaries - and yes, I include the loveable Attenborough under that rubric - are peddling the survivalist line that we should minimise our footprint - our impact - upon the world to suit what the earth needs.

But ACTUALLY… it is ‘growth’ and ‘development’ (without ‘sustainable’ prefixes) that are the very things that are needed - by people - in order to lift populations out of penury and to make affluent countries even more labour-efficient. Human's needs and "the earth's" needs (if there be such a thing) are often diametrically opposed. It is NOT subsistence that determines the number of people that can adequately be supported BUT progress and technology - without artificial limits - that can raise people’s capacity to thrive.

Unfortunately, it is the complete lack of human-centredness exemplified by Attenborough and his new-found allies, that is going to destroy the very project of human emancipation.

A few gigs...

18th April 2009
Cities in Literature
22: 30pm – 4:00pm
British Library, Conference Centre, Main Auditorium, 96 Euston Road, London
With over half the world’s population now living in cities, and Mumbai set to become the world’s largest by 2015, questions about what makes the experience of living in cities distinctive take on a new urgency.
Speakers: Mani Sankar Mukherji (Sankar), novelist & biographer of Swami Vivekananda; Suketu Mehta, author of "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found"; Namdeo Dhasal, 'maverick' Marathi poet; Austin Williams, author "Enemies of Progress"
Chair: James Boyle, founder of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature

30th April 2009
Broken Britain: Can we fix it?
Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4QH
Today, there is a widespread conviction that we live in a "broken society" with endless stories of feckless parents or feral children, and a collapse of "respect" and "trust".
Speakers: Yvonne Roberts, senior associate, The Young Foundation; Eamonn Butler, director, Adam Smith Institute; author, "The Rotten State of Britain"; Alastair Donald, urban designer, researcher and co-editor, "The Future of Community";Steve Wyler, director, Development Trusts Association;
Chair: Austin Williams, author, "Enemies of Progress" & Battle of Ideas' committee member.

19 May 2009
Population: Movements and limitations
Royal Insitute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London
9.00 - 11.30am
Economic collapse has brought into question once thought sound notions of growth. What will be new European trends? What areas of the UK will suffer from depopulation as a result of the current economic climate? What impact will this have on growth strategies and sectors of the economy - in particularly the housing market? Can we champion non growth, but maintain stability?
Prof. David Fisk, Imperial College London, Roger Martin, Optimum Population Trust, Austin Williams, author "Enemies of Progress", Alasdair Murray, Centre Forum.

2 out of 5

This review by Mark T. VanDyke on US Review Scout - gives me 2 out of 5 - although typically positions me as some kind of free-market groupie... which I am not. (NB: Actually I am opposed to the market as the regulator of society). I'm sorry too that he didn't see that this was a critique of the social forces of sustainability rather than environmentalism and didn't accept that arguing for the advance of humanity at the same time as arguing for the primacy of protecting the environmentalism is a contradiction.

Read on...
I really had high hopes for this one; true and intelligent critiques of sustainability are hard to come by, and for William's credit, this book is a step in the right direction. However, this is not so much a critique on "sustainability" as it is on "environmentalism". Williams' text attacks "sustainability" without ever really addressing the concept in general; economic sustainability and social equity (two of the three so-called components of the sustainable concept--and the important anthropocentric ones at that) are notably absent as Williams lays out a familiar and played out (albeit passionate) argument against environmentalism.

Williams displays a viewpoint described by Michael Colby (1991) as classic "Frontier Economics": progress as infinite growth; extremely strong anthropocentric views; privatization and free markets; exploitation of infinite natural resources et cetera. The downfall of this viewpoint is that although it is creative and pro-humanity (very important aspects), it has absolutely no awareness of any reliance on ecological services--which is apparent in Williams lack of coverage throughout the book. To Williams, nature is still that force to be conquered by man, providing nothing of value without human labor and ingenuity (once again, strongly anthropocentric). For those interested in possibly buying this text, some of William's key arguments are as follows: Sustainability is a dangerous concept that restrains human imagination Human ambition is suppressed by sustainability's biocentric viewpoint A progressive future relies on human-centered (anthropocentric) politics Thesis statement: Sustainable development is the enemy of development; environmentalism is the enemy of humanism; ergo, sustainability is the enemy of progress (page 3)

To his credit, Williams presents some valid points, particularly the chapters on education of young children and America's role and influence in the developing world. However, I can only give this book two stars as the arguments presented completely ignore the presence of any important environmental problems, offers no solutions beyond the continuation of business as usual, and therefore, in my opinion, is far from progressive in any way. The real fallacy, and the thing that really rubs me wrong in this text, is Williams steadfast framing of an argument with only two sides--humans or the environment; to use Williams' own vocabulary, that seems awfully "parochial" and altogether less than "progressive" thinking.

To move past the elementary and played-out human/environment argument in this text, let's instead build upon the easily recognizable fact that we need the environment and therefore reframe the argument as, "how can we sustainably develop our environment FOR HUMANS, without destroying its abilities to provide the many ecological services which we rely on for our present quality of life?" After all, as Peter Senge points out eloquently in his book the fifth discipline, "today's problems come from yesterday's solutions." Once again, I hope to see much more literature critiquing the sustainability concept in the future, but I also hope that these critiques are far deeper in their evaluation and content than this first attempt by Austin Williams.


“Enemies of Progress” was published in late May 2008.

Lo and behold, UK foreign secretary David Miliband used the phrase in a speech at University of South Africa just 5 weeks later on 7 July 2008 and Gordon Brown did the same in a speech to the Knesset on 21 July 2008.

Obviously they used it in a completely vacuous way… but even so... it’s nice to see that they are reading productively these days.


A very nice review by Tim Rich of "26" - a group of writers, language specialists, editors, designers or publishers:

"Brilliant riposte to unthinking environmentalism that suggests the sacred cow of sustainability produces bullshit as well as, er, milk. This is the sort of entertaining and illuminating polemic that makes you think again – sharper. As me-too sustainability 'commitments' spread through business, this is a hugely useful challenge to complacent and unprogressive thinking."