A Manifesto For A New Environmentalism

Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, like Silent Spring, was considered powerful because it marshaled the facts into an effective (read: apocalyptic) story. But, ironically, for more than seven years, research that environmentalists have privately conducted on attitudes toward global warming has found the opposite: Cautionary tales and narratives of eco-apocalypse tend to provoke fatalism, conservatism, and survivalism among voters–not the rational embrace of environmental policies. This research is consistent with extensive social-science research that strongly correlates fear, rising insecurity, and pessimism about the future with resistance to change.

In promoting the inconvenient truth that humans must limit their consumption and sacrifice their way of life to prevent the world from ending, environmentalists are not only promoting a solution that won’t work, they’ve discouraged Americans from seeing the big solutions at all. For Americans to be future-oriented, generous, and expansive in their thinking, they must feel secure, wealthy, and strong.

How might history have been different had environmentalists and their political allies 20 years ago proposed that the nations of the world make a massive, shared investment in clean energy, better and more efficient housing development, and more comfortable and efficient transportation systems? The tables would have been turned. Global- warming skeptics would have had to take a position against the growth of new markets and industries. Proponents of this investment agenda could have tarred their opponents as being anti-business, anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs, and stuck in the past.

Thankfully, it’s not too late. Today, there is quickly emerging a new political lobby and movement for clean-energy investment that is unburdened by the pollution paradigm. Increasingly, energy companies and investors are realizing that they cannot rely on the environmental lobby and must take political matters into their own hands. And, with young and grassroots environmentalists more inspired by the vision of creating a new energy economy than regulating the old one, there’s new hope that we will soon see the emergence of a more expansive, relevant, and powerful ecological movement, one grounded in possibilities, not limits. Manifesto For New Environmentalism

Uh, hello? They did try 20 years ago, and nobody was listening then either. Since then, a groundswell from the grassroots has grown into a tsunami, but it’s not really made the changes needed.

Now we’re listening, but only sort of, but the author is only partly right — we’re quaking in our boots with fear because we are facing some terribly dangerous times ahead due to our own folly.

This is a good read, if more then a bit overly optimistic. It’s also a soft sell on the idea that we’re still going to be able to change the environment for the better before things get any worse.

But it’s not true, which makes it disingenuous. There is also that small little problem that global tipping points have now been reached. But let’s try and ignore this for a moment (as if we can) and go on to something else I’d like to focus on.

Implied in this article is the constantly found theme that if we find the political will, capital and investment necessary, this powerful combination will encourage industry and people to adopt new technology to fix our environmental issues and all will be well. But is this true? I don’t see how it could be.

First off, we’re asking the same polluting industries and greedy bureaucrats to reverse their course of action, despite their vested interest in “staying the course”. Business as usual has real meaning and profits to these companies.

Secondly, the implication is that humans can blissfully continue on our present path without paying some kind of price for their past sins. Technology and sheer will power will make our environmental problems just go away, while the market enjoys a healthy spike. Huh?

Thirdly, this ignores the hundreds of years of growing environmental issues that are now in evidence. The implication is that a technofix will also solve this in a relatively short time, despite the centuries it took to create the problems.

But isn’t the very paradigm that is at fault? How can we realistically expect the same players, investors and institutions that created the problem in the first place to now reverse their course? Will they willing undermine their existing efforts and investments with the sincerity and effort that is actually and truly required, or will they put forth a paltry amount and effort, giving more lip service then real service?

They’re still investing massively in polluting technologies, from everything from microchips to mining ships, and likely to do so as long as they can. They’re still doing it because it remains profitable and a permitted activity, which is exactly what the markets follow, which brings me to the fourth reason.

Unless it’s profitable, then the changes advocated above won’t be competitively pursued by industry leaders. Without competition, it won’t be affordable. Clean alternative energy, for example, still isn’t remotely affordable. Payback times are in multiple decades for things like wind or solar power (40 – 50 years). Because it’s not affordable, these technologies are not widely adopted. As I recall, only 4% of the world’s energy is developed today using alternative methods.

It’s easy for me to see why alternative energy and clean technologies will never be widely adopted. They will remain niche industries and cater only to the wealthy and affluent. Which leaves the rest of us where?

Probably choking on our own fumes. I see this as the most likely course of action because the less affluent will resort to traditional methods of energy (and heat) production, such as wood, coal and steam as the world winds down (or crashes) from a petroleum based economy.

There is a myth that alternative energy will go down in cost. But lets examine this for a moment. How might this happen? The cost per kilowatt is dropping using wind and solar power as technology improves, but the cost of energy keeps going up (petroleum energy). Is industry able to switch to alternative energy to mine, manufacture, produce and distribute alternative energy solutions? Not yet they’re not, they’re still using petroleum power. So when petroleum or natural gas or even dirty fuels like coal dry up all within the next generation, what will this mean for alternative energy “solutions”? Bye bye. And this is only one aspect of bring alternative energy to the marketplace, there are many more.

Additionally, the failure to fully address the market requirements will doom alternative energy. But it is much, much more then this. The “New Environmentalism” creed is subject to the same requirements. If we cannot afford it, we will ignore it. We always do.

This is exactly what has been going on for hundreds of years. Nowadays, you can see the evidence of this in places like China, India, Taiwan, Japan and Brazil. America was no different — we took what we wanted and thought we needed and damned the consequences. The market drove this need, and since our society is built around these market forces, including our belief systems, expectations and so-called “needs”, this will always be the driving force behind our treatment of the environment.

Abundance permits affordability. The abundance of essentials, food, water, shelter, have permitted some not-so-obvious things such as leisure time, recreation, society, democracy, fairness, justice, and of course, even civilization. When mankind had enough to eat, he turned his attention to other things.

For example, we could not even be discussing concepts such as environmentalism if we were not already experiencing a continued abundance of natural resources. In other words, at present, we can afford to be environmentally conscious. We can also afford many other things for the same basic reason. But when there are shortages, then life and society becomes much harder. This explains why during times of famine, drought, war or in situations where shortages arise, the not-so-obvious things disappear. Justice, fairness, democracy, voting, trade agreements, and on and on.

Going a bit further, although the inhabitants of Easter Island well recognized their environmental depletion, they continue to overtax their environment despite knowing this would cause their own deaths, because they had no other choice. Their society crumbled as a result as food and material shortages overtook them. Violence ensued as they fought over the scraps to stay alive.

The same is true for modern civilizations today. We righteously claim we have a “choice” on how we treat our environment, but do we really? If we do have a choice, how free of a choice is this choice anyway? Or are we caught in a vicious circle that swirls around an ever expanding drain?

I think the latter is true because we are not yet able to fully discuss, let alone deal with, what drives our constant consumption. Because we are literally addicted to constant growth throughout all aspects of our society, consumption must always go up. This creates inordinate demands upon our environment, which is finite and is not able to adequately restore itself through natural processes or replenish the non-replenishable resources we take.

Changing this paradigm has proven in the modern world to be futile. The new green “environmentalism” is a whitewash of lies and deceptions as the same players play the same game from start to finish. Nothing changes. We’re mislead into believing that we now have “healthy choices” for our bodies and our planet, but this simply isn’t true. The same mechanisms of growth, consumption and depletion are still in place.

The truth is, we really don’t have a choice anymore. Jared Diamond points this out in “Guns, Germs, Steel“: Sedentary lifestyles supported by agriculture gave rise to a faster birth cycle, which in turn created a vicious, consumptive, and never ending demand upon the environment. As populations rises, agriculture has to constantly increase it’s productive capacity. More people means more resources and faster and faster population growth.

This also affects of course, all other sectors of human activity, industry, politics, transportation, housing, etc., which must keep pace with the growing population. They in turn, require their own set of environmental inputs and resources.

Obviously, the present model of civilization itself is at fault. World population will rise as long as the environment permits it. When that fails or changes, collapse happens. Along the way, while the material abundance provided for by the environment continues, such things as democracy, human rights, are permitted. When material abundance fails, they will quickly disappear. We require abundance of our essential needs in order to build a just and more fair society. Take away that abundance and it will revert to the law of the jungle where only the strong survive.

Does true environmentalism permit abundance? Not necessarily. I love the environment in it’s natural state and wish mankind would simply leave it alone. We should only take what we need, not everything we want. In it’s natural state, the environment does not provide us the abundance that we are now accustomed to (an important distinction). Unless we adopt the life style habit of learning to live with less and reducing our footprint, we will continue to over-exploit the environment to produce a super-abundance for all of our needs and material wants.

This is of course, contradictory to an true environmental ethic, but implied in almost everything your read about environmentalism. The implication is the environment will continue to provide an abundance for our material wants, but we can somehow now do this ethically and responsibly without polluting or destroying the environment any further. This cannot possibly be true.

The new environmentalism being proposed above is in reality, no different then the old environmentalism. It embraces the same patterns and the same problems with a new shiny coating of disingenuous gloss.

In other words, we cannot have it both ways. Either we will take what we want from the environment along with the destruction and damage that this will cause, or we change ourselves and our life styles to live within the natural boundaries of our environment.

Which will it be? I think we already know the answer to that. We will continue to take from the environment whatever we need, when we need it and everything else that we might want. This is the “new environmentalism” and it looks just like the old.

The meaning is clear — real environmentalism is dead, saving the planet is dead, and ultimately even saving ourselves is probably dead too. Humankind has embarked upon the pathway of sedentary living and material possessions and once this occurred, we committed our planet to become a wasteland.

Some of us can see that, like James Lovelock. If you’re paying attention to what he’s saying, he’s probably scaring the hell out of people. I’ve heard the same from more then a few callers myself lately. That’s not my goal. My goal is to gain awareness of what path we are all on and what it means for our future. We’ve tried changing our environment to fit our wants with disastrous results. That seems to still be the main menu item. But it’s clearly not working and with a little understanding of science, it never will. Our only other choice is to change ourselves.

This then is my hope. That the world’s future survivors will finally and fully realize the folly of this present way of life and will forever abandon it as foolish, dangerous and destructive. Along the way as we shed these dangerous practices, we will discover the new way of living that is truly a renewed environmentalism with the Earth ethics that are required.


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