"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

Professional Housebuilder and Property Developer

After writing a review for the (very readable) Professional Housebuilder and Property Developer, this is what they had to say about mine:

"Whatever your opinions on building sustainably, this book is a must-read, questioning themarch towards carbon zero and giving a refreshing alternative to the green agenda."

Lucy Dixon, Professional Housebuilder and Property Developer (October 2008).


Thanks to Barry York in Austrlia for this article:


Barry blogs at http://strangetimes.lastsuperpower.net/ and is involved in a very interesting "left-wing" group around Strange Times. I have had a number of fascinating conversations with Barry over the last few months and I certainly wish them all well - and a continued, recession-proof dialgue into 2009.

I have literally JUST received (after around 8 weeks waiting for trusty Amazon) a copy of David McMullen's book "Bright Future: Abundance and Progress in the 21st Century" which looks fascinating. The dustjacket says that there are three reasons to be reasonably positive about 21st century:
1. More and more poor people will become increasingly wealthy
2. "Environmental catastrophe will continue to not happen", and
3. Capitalism will lose its "historical mandate".

As they say, I can't wait to read it over Christmas.

See also: http://brightfuture21c.wordpress.com

Times Literary Supplement

"Williams ... identifies radical environmentalists as 'enemies of progress' who have fundamentally turned away from human development and advancement'. Peter Pesic, TLS (September 19th, 2008)

At times it's not the most full-bodied endorsement - where once again I am riding on the coat tails of Nigel Lawson's book, (not my fault... and slightly embarrassing for my left-wing credentials, if truth be told) - but it's pretty good, I think.

I am grateful to the TLS for the mention.

In my role as co-editor, I have a new book "The Future of Community: Reports of a Death Greatly Exaggerated" that will be reviewed in the TLS in January. See: http://www.futureofcommunity.org.uk/

Saturday Telegraph

Kind words indeed from Andrew English at the Telegraph Motoring desk. Many thanks.

As he says, sometimes books get overtaken by events, but the example he cites - of describing drivers of 4X4s as worse than paedophiles - is not uncommon. In fact I do indeed quote the ubiquitous George Monbiot as saying ‘a car is now more dangerous than a gun; flying across the Atlantic is as unacceptable, in terms of its impact on human well-being, as child abuse.’

But this update is all grist to the mill and more examples of this kind of degraded comparison - and moral grandstanding - are welcome.


Comment is Free

Andrew Simm, in Comment is Free, proclaims my small notoriety... and pretends that he hasn't read my book.


Culture Wars

A favourable review on Culture Wars website by Ben Pile, one of the founders of Climate Resistance

See Climate Resistance on www.climate-resistance.org

Little Atoms

Here's an interview about the book... and the subsequent Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism [ManTowNHuman] on Little Atoms with Neil Denny and Padraig Reidy.


Climate Change

Here's a review of our team's heroic loss in the final debate about Climate Change in Melbourne.
I think we won a moral victory... !

RIBA Journal

Here's a review from the RIBA Journal (July 2008) by Grant Gibson. I like it.

I have to say I caught my breath when described as a cross between Michael Moore and Sir Keith Joseph (two more reprehensible characters in modern history, I struggle to bring to mind) but Grant makes some valid criticisms:


Mind you, I have to say that I think it's a peculiar wishful thinking to suggest that the environmental consensus is cracking simply because Alastair Darling has refused to put two pence a litre on petrol prices. Actually, having read the article, I think that that is a far more strained example than my Libya one (at least, in the book, I said that I was using the Libya example as a rhetorical device).

Climate Change debate

This is an edit of a debate 'Global Warming is the only issue':


Chris Turner, author of 'The Geography of Hope'
Don Henry, executive director, Australian Conservation Foundation
Larissa Brown, founder and executive director, Centre for Sustainability Leadership

Dr Norman Lewis, chief strategy officer, Wireless Grids Corporation (USA)
Austin Williams, architect, writer and critic, founder of ManTowNHuman
Dr Leela Gandhi, professor of English University of Chicago

ABC's "Counterpoint"

Here's an interview for ABC's "Counterpoint" which gets the gist of the book across. It's the first item (about 20 minutes or so). My thanks to Paul Comrie-Thomson and Ian Coombes:


SBS Radio

Here's a recording of me interviewed by Caroline Davey on SBS Radio in Melbourne.

Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) is Australia’s multicultural and multilingual public broadcaster, billed as the 'world's most linguistically diverse broadcaster... broadcasting in 68 different languages'.

Wartime Thrift

Many thanks for this review from the American National Association of Scholars, 'founded in 1987, soon after Allan Bloom’s surprise best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind, alerted Americans to the ravages wrought by illiberal ideologies on campus':


Review on Spiked

I am grateful to Tony Gilland for the following review for spiked-online, in the company of Nigel Lawson's book "An Appeal to Reason"


I will be debating Nigel Lawson at Waterstones Economist bookshop on 22nd July 2008. For more details, see: http://www.futurecities.org.uk/barnies.html

I o I Education Forum

I am indebted to Dennis Hayes for a very charitable review in the Institute of Ideas Education Forum:


Criticism from Adrian Hornsby

NOTE: This letter is answered in the 'Comment' afterwards

Dear Austin,
I really enjoyed the book, but seeing as that side is less interesting, I have two beefs:

Firstly I felt at times that it was something of an exercise in tenpin bowling, in that you had very effectively hoovered up a host of daft comments, some from influential people who should know better, some from loonies, then set them up neatly in a diamond formation, and then, with considerable rhetorical zeal, bowled the ball of your arguments down the lane at them and sent them all flying. This is certainly fun, but it also slips out of some of the larger arguments, such as that improved efficiency, be it greenwashed or not, is progressive, and that significant and exciting new innovation is coming out of the sustainability labelled camp (the argument at the end that politically motivated technological developments are somehow less valid I don't buy at all, and have to point out that your own delight in JFK's moon statement, which was undeniably highly politicised, is essentially at odds with this notion).

The second and more interesting thing that struck me is that, being apolemical-rhetorical book, the author reveals a bit more about themselves than they would do if they were working exclusively with closely argued technical points, and that which is revealed is at times oddly traditionalist. I was surprised to read in a book directed at the enemies of progress the phrase, 'and it was ever thus' - hinting at a belief that there are all sorts of things which aren't subject to progress at all. There was something curiously nostalgic about your exuberance for the railway into Tibet as a feat of pure engineering (a kind of 1940s boy's wonder) which completely absolved the project of its true motivations - based around neither development nor freedom but the straight political objective to boost the Han Chinese population of Tibet in order to suffocate the independence movement. Even more amazing, the train passage comes as a kind of preamble to talking with equally nostalgic admiration for Victorian Britain, throwing things even further back seemingly to justify the truly appalling current levels of pollution and urban squalor in rapidly developing countries on the grounds that, back in the grand old days, the UK too had terrible smog and awful slums. To suggest that the model for progress - i.e. rampant abuse - has not progressed at all since Victorian times strikes me as deeply unprogressive.

Morevoer I would argue the way you go on to affirm that material benefits and improvements in social equity follow one another with the same ineluctability as day does night is not only questionable but ultimately retrogressive. It strikes me as a deeply static Western model (something like, "that's how things happened in Europe and, therefore, it was ever thus ..."), which is highly contentious, teleologically conformist, and increasingly inaccurate.
More and more it seems that high growth economies and new middle classes are not pursuing democracy at all - in fact at times the opposite.

Therefore to proclaim an unequivally pro-growth agenda irrespective of environmental costs or social costs or indeed perhaps total costs on the grounds that it is somehow inevitably driving toward a better life for all ("because that's just how development works") sounds to me like a proclamation of the cessation of progress in ideas about progress. And thus, Mr. Williams, you become an enemy of progress yourself ...

Adrian Hornsby, co-author 'The Chinese Dream-a society under construction', June 2008

In answer to Adrian Hornsby


Let me address these point by point:

(I stand accused of) ’Tenpin bowling…a host of daft comments…from influential people who should know better.’
The idea that these comments were loose canon quotes from erstwhile sober commentators is wrong, many of the ‘silly’ comments include Jonathon Porritt’s delight at implementing a one-child policy in this country and Monbiot advocating that we should all stay in bed to save carbon. Pointing out their stupidity was not intended to suggest that they should be more careful in future… it was to point out that this is what they believe. Using their own words to parody their position, I think, is justifiable (and I’m sure that I will be on the receiving end soon enough)

‘Improved efficiency, be it greenwashed or not, is progressive’.
Firstly, I don’t care about ‘greenwash’. Secondly, I agree that improved efficiency has the tendency to be progressive; but, for example, the idea that economic efficiency can be achieved by sacking loads of workers, is not inherently progressive and I am against it. The point I make is that under environmentalism, there is an over concentration on ‘resource efficiency’ as opposed to ‘labour efficiency’: the second one is progressive, the former may well not be (say, the efficiency of the chain gang, where materials can be used really efficiently at the expense of laborious human labour time).

(There is ) significant and exciting new innovation is coming out of the sustainability labelled camp.
Maybe. I’m in favour of thin-film PV, etc, like anyone. It’s not the ‘innovation’ (as such) but the unidirectional motor for innovation that I am critical of.
Secondly, innovation can mean all sorts of things these days. How about the Welsh Parliament’s innovative transport plan? Just in case you think that they’d bought into the truly innovative Ultra transit system? [1] or were distributing jet-packs, it simply ‘aims to provide young job seekers and young people in higher education with a personalised travel plan with information on how to get from their homes to their place of work or study using public transport.’[2] (In case you think I a selectively quoting from people who should know better… this sort of excuse for real investment in real technological innovation is pretty much everywhere).

(The author suggests that) politically motivated technological developments are somehow less valid… (see) JFK's moon statement, which was undeniably highly politicised
Well everything and anything can be politically motivated. I accept the contention… but the point is that I have a politically disagreement with certain political positions. The fact that I like Wordsworth’s poetry doesn’t mean I can’t argue against the culture of the Romantics - I am against environmental politics for a range of reasons. However… before you retort, let me say that I am not a supporter of JFK, I am simply alluding to a socio-historical shift between 60s dynamism (with all of its many faults) and 00s risk-aversion.

The author… revealed (as) oddly traditionalist… the phrase, 'and it was ever thus' - hinting at a belief that there are all sorts of things which aren't subject to progress at all.
Even Trotsky wrote about the eternal nature of ideas and emotions, asking why 2500 year old Greek tragedies still makes us cry. The quote refers to the sentence ‘liberation of free movement is clearly an advance and ever has it been thus’ alluding to the cry for freedom by slaves and the exploited since time immemorial. I also am making an illusion – as I do in the opening sentence to the chapter on America – to the Communist manifesto that ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’

(The book is) curiously nostalgic... exuberance for the railway into Tibet… absolved the project of its true motivations… to suffocate the independence movement.
It is, is it not, a fantastic feat of engineering? I am not endorsing (as a matter of fact, I am probably more critical than many Western based contemporary books on) China. Criticism is more than legitimate – I argue that it is essential. But I hate to break it to you that the construction of the Indian railways was not primarily for the benefit of the Indians … but it still doesn’t preclude people being impressed by the results. If you think that every article praising technological advances should be appended with a condemnatory footnote about its true objectives, then everything evaporates in a relativistic puff of smoke. Let me tell you that the British Welfare state was not some utopian idyll, but had its origins in eugenics and the rebuilding of the ‘national stock’

(I have a ) nostalgic admiration for Victorian Britain… seemingly to justify the truly appalling current levels of pollution and urban squalor in rapidly developing countries
I don’t justify them at all. What I am describing is a historical parallel… not a blueprint. History – ie the making of history – is in the hands of individuals and societies: it is not fated. However, the social and material ambition and drive that lifted people out of their squalid conditions 100+ years ago, is not so much in evidence today. The ambition is the thing I’m pointing out, not the squalor. I want people to fight to rise above their meagre economic relations. As a matter of fact I make great play of the fact that there is more to life than simply consumer culture

(I suggest that) material benefits and improvements in social equity follow one another… (in) high growth economies… new middle classes are not pursuing democracy at all.
I agree. However, there is something to be said for improving material benefits regardless of social equity.
But your point is taken that to challenge the political deficit – be it authoritarianism in China or political vacuousness in Britain – we need a political response and an intellectual and ‘physical’ intervention. The whole point of the book is to point out that unless we challenge the environmental logic of human self-loathing, then there will be no human-centred, intellectually-clear, politically-polarised fightback.

[1] http://www.atsltd.co.uk/

[2] Press release, ‘Innovative travel scheme for young people in North East Wales launched’, Welsh Assembly Government, 27 October 2004

The Guardian aren't keen

It seems as if John Vidal of the Guardian doesn't appreciate my book. I'm left til last in this unbiased piece of reporting... just after he's advocated censuring a telly programme he didn't agree with.


I am grateful to the first reviewer here though (Scroll to the bottom). The second reviewer is less generous. Mind you, suggesting that the book's 'central message seems to be that all development is essentially good and so we need to do away with planning regulation' seems to imply that they haven't read the book - just the Guardian 'review' listed above. (For the record, I don't argue any such thing):


Times Higher Education

A very nice mention from Dennis Hayes in the Times Higher Education, 1 May 2008


Dennis, with Kathryn Ecclestone, is the author of 'The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education', Routledge, May/June 2008. He is also the founder of the campaign group Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF)

New Culture Forum

Peter Whittle's New Culture Forum has laid me bare:


I guess that this is as near as I'll get to 'Desert Island Discs'.

Nature blog

Here's a blog posting on the book by Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature.


I have to say that I'm NOT calling for a more moderate form of environmentalism, but unlike Henry's interpretation, I also do not think that progress is some kind of fateful process of history... but I do believe that it is - almost by definition - a universal good.

Talks in Melbourne, Australia

Austin Williams will be speaking at the Alfred Deakin Lectures in Melbourne, Australia between June 8-14th 2008

If you are in Melbourne, it'd be good to see you there.



Editorial, 'The Enemies Of Progress', Pan Pantziarka

"...This is an angry little volume, of that there's no doubt. William's has plenty of invective for those who champion 'sustainability..."



"SUSTAINABLE? OVER-USE OF THE WORD WILL RUN OUT", by Jasper Gerard, 2nd May 2008

"...Austin Williams has a point; almost anything can be made to sound virtuous if cloaked in greenery: eco-friendly terrorism, perhaps, or low-energy land mines, or carbon-neutral ethnic cleansing..."


Edited extract

An edited extract of the Chapter on China and India, is available on Spiked-online.
Read here: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/reviewofbooks_article/5029/


Ian Abley of Audacity has given the book its first - and terrifically generous - review here. http://www.audacity.org/IA-06-05-08.htm


"Enemies of Progress"
on WEDNESDAY, MAY 21st 2008
6:30pm. All welcome

Waterstones Economist Bookshop
Clare Market, Portugal Street
London (near Aldwych or see it on a map.)

Enemies of Progress

My new book "The Enemies of Progress: The Dangers of Sustainability", published by Societas is released on 1 May 2008. I am grateful for these initial generous words of encouragement:

'A well argued humanist alternative to the present conformist consensus - a very persuasive contribution by a thoughtful subversive.'
Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of ‘Politics of Fear’ and ‘Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone’

‘A much needed diagnosis of the bleak anti-human pathology sometimes described as environmentalism’
Dominic Lawson, columnist for The Independent

'Austin Williams has a gift for lobbing well-directed grenades.'
Philippe Legrain, author 'Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them'

This book explores the all-pervasive influence of sustainability and environmentalism in modern society. From architecture to transport, from foreign policy to domestic ideology this book demonstrates that sustainability represents a pernicious and corrosive doctrine that has survived primarily because there seems to be no alternative to its canon. In effect, sustainability’s bi-partisan appeal has depressed critical engagement and neutered politics.
Sustainability is a malign philosophy of misanthropy, low aspirations and restraint. This book argues for a destruction of the ‘sustainable’ prefix, removing its unthinking status as a contemporary orthodoxy, and for the reinstatement of the notions of real development, progress, experimentation and ambition in its place.

Al Gore insists that the ‘debate is over’, while musician KT Tunstall, spokesperson for ‘Global Cool’, a campaign to get personalities to minimise their carbon footprint, says that ‘so many people are getting involved that it is becoming really quite uncool not to’. This book suggests that it might not be ‘cool’, but it is imperative to argue against the moralising of politics so that we can start to unpick the contemporary world of restrictive, sustainable practices. The debate has only just begun.

Look out for the launch too, of the new radical architectural manifesto ManTowNHuman, which will be launched on July 3rd.