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Friday, May 17, 2013

Archdruid on environmentalism (it has failed)

Here's a sobering read.

"At this point, roughly in parallel with fundamentalism and the New Age, the environmental movement is having to come face to face with the total failure of its hopes. Back in the heady days of its early successes, the vision that guided it saw environmental protection as the next step forward in the same trajectory of social progress that included the civil rights movement and second wave feminism; it was in this spirit, for example, that environmental lawyers proposed that trees be given legal standing. The hope all along was that industrial civilization could achieve a permanent peace with the world of nature and continue up the infinite road of progress without leaving a scorched and looted planet in its wake.

That hope is dead. If there was ever a chance to achieve it, it went whistling down the wind decades ago, and at this point the jaws of resource depletion and environmental degradation are tightening around the collective throat of the world’s industrial societies, in exactly the fashion predicted in detail forty years ago in the pages ofThe Limits to Growth. Even if the green technologies promoted by an increasingly frantic minority of environmentalists could support something like today’s rates of energy use, which they can’t, we can no longer afford the sort of massive buildout of those technologies that would be necessary to supplant even a significant part of our current fossil fuel consumption. If what’s left of the environmental movement managed to overcome its own internal dysfunctions and the formidable opposition of its foes, and became a mass movement again, the most it could accomplish at this point would be the protection of some of the most vulnerable ecosystems as industrial society stumbles down the first bitter steps of the long descent into the deindustrial future.

That’s still a goal worth achieving, but it’s not the goal to which the environmental mainstream committed itself when it embraced a role among the socially acceptable institutions of American public life, with the perks and salaries that this status involves. This explains, I suggest, the way that certain mainstream environmentalists have turned to proselytizing for nuclear power and other frankly ecocidal technologies, under the curious delusion that "possibly a little better than the worst" somehow amounts to "good." The desperation in such rhetoric is palpable, and signals the end of the road—an end that, in this case as in the others I’ve cited, involves a good many fantasies of total destruction.

Still, there’s another factor here, and it unfolds from one of the least creditable aspects of the way that the environmental movement has evolved over time. It has become increasingly clear that the perks, the salaries, and the comfortable middle class lifestyles embraced so enthusiastically by so many people in the movement are themselves part of the problem. I was intrigued to read earlier this month athoughtful essay by leading British climate scientist Kevin Andersonarguing, in terms that will sound very familiar to regular readers ofThe Archdruid Report, that the failure of climate change activism to make any headway in changing people’s behavior may have more than a little to do with the fact that the people who are urging such changes aren’t making them themselves."


myr lock said...

I have often thought of the lifestyle of the people advocating environmental changes. They might have had to fly to some country for a meeting on climate change. Used cars to get from A to B etc......
Good post.

robertguyton said...

Mostly, I believe such travel is a necessary evil, with the emphasis (as you see) on necessary. If I could fly to Chile in order to speak to a 'council of powerful people' and convince them, successfully, to stop all oil and gas extraction on the planet, my flight would be worthwhile and the argument that I was hypocritical to use jet fuel, wrong.