Way back in 2005, I posted, The Environmental Movement is Dead, about how the traditional environmental movement — centered around the big lobbying groups such as the Sierra Club and their associated policy initiatives — had failed to do anything to apply real brakes to the decline in the global environment or even to significantly improve our national carbon footprint. Featured in that post were the poster-children of the anti-movement environmental movmeent, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. The two are still at it and have an interesting take in The New Republic, on The Green Bubble.
Green anti-modernism brings with it other contradictions. Despite the rhetoric about “one planet,” not all humans have the same interests when it comes to addressing global warming. Greens often note that the changing global climate will have the greatest impact on the world's poor; they neglect to mention that the poor also have the most to gain from development fueled by cheap fossil fuels like coal. For the poor, the climate is already dangerous. They are already subject to the droughts, floods, hurricanes, and diseases that future warming will intensify. It is their poverty, not rising carbon-dioxide levels, that make them more vulnerable than the rest of us. By contrast, it is the richest humans–those of us who have achieved comfort, prosperity, and economic security for ourselves and for our children–who have the most to lose from the kind of apocalyptic global-warming scenarios that have so often been invoked in recent years. The existential threat so many of us fear is that we might all end up in a kind of global Somalia characterized by failed states, resource scarcity, and chaos. It is more than a little ironic that at the heart of the anti-modern green discourse resides the fear of losing our modernity.
Nonetheless, it has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development–never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty. The convenient and ancient view among elites that the poor are actually spiritually rich, and the exaggeration of insignificant gestures like recycling and buying new lightbulbs, are both motivated by the cognitive dissonance created by simultaneously believing that not all seven billion humans on earth can “live like we live” and, consciously or unconsciously, knowing that we are unwilling to give up our high standard of living. This is the split “between what you think and what you do” to which Pollan refers, and it should, perhaps, come as no surprise that so many educated liberals, living at the upper end of a social hierarchy that was becoming ever more stratified, should find the remedies that Pollan and Beavan offer so compelling. But, while planting a backyard garden may help heal the eco-anxieties of affluent greens, it will do little to heal the planet or resolve the larger social contradictions that it purports to address.
Certainly the traditonal Green Lobby has failed to put any iron in the spines of Congressional Democrats as the carbon cap-and-trade bill gets the death of a thousand cuts treatment in committee. Each Congressman it seems is lining up to get a bit or preferential treatment for this or that state polluter or contributor.
But the main point here is that we really are still completely in denial. There is no technical fix for what we've done over the last hundred years that allows us to maintain the status quo in the United States. Our entire culture and society is built on a central premise that is a lie: that huge amounts of energy will be plentiful and cheap forever.
There is just no way 700 million people (The US and Europe) are going to tell 6.2 billion people that their aspirations to have what the 700 million have is impossible. That they cannot have clean water, ubiquitous and reliable electricity and Internet, good health care, education, a decent job, a house, a TV and maybe a car. But we manifestly don't have the resources to support 7 billion people at that level. Something has to give.
As much as it grieves me to say it, fuck the polar bears. They are goners. Their genome will live on in laboratories and zoos. Perhaps in a thousand years or so, our descendants may be able to reintroduce them into the wild on polar nature preserves. But other than that they are screwed. We need to save ourselves.
Figuring out a way to a completely new and long-term sustainable way of living that allows maximum life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for 7 billion people is the real challenge of the Environmental Movement. It will require changes to the American Way of Life. Get used to it.
from the cman blog