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In 2004 Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote an essay titled The Death of Environmentalism which shook the environmental community – although, probably not quite enough.  Nordhaus and Shellenberger (N and S) have gone on to form The Breakthrough Institute, arguing that we need technological breakthroughs in order to solve our biggest environmental problem, global warming, as well as advocating for what they see as innovative solutions to various other problems.

They recently gave a follow-up speech at Yale, addressing the epochal questions, “What went wrong with the environmental movement in the past 10 years or so, and what new direction should we take?”.  I’ve always been interested in what they have to say, because I think they have contributed several important new ideas, even though I disagree with other ideas of theirs.  Their critique, at least, presents an opportunity to engage in a meaningful debate about environmental movements and policies.  And they serve as a foil for me to pontificate about my own ideas.

N and S start their speech by recalling the genesis of Death of Environmentalism, because, as they say, “Not one of the environmental leaders we interviewed articulated a compelling vision or strategy for dealing with the challenge” of climate change.  The environmental movement, broadly defined, was focused -- no, obsessed, with -- cap-and-trade.  In fact, it still is.  I have to agree with N and S on this one: the fascination with cap-and-trade has been, perhaps tragically, wrong-headed.  If cap-and-trade killed environmentalism, then it is still dead.
It pains me to criticize, not just cap-and-trade legislation, but carbon pricing in general (which includes carbon taxes, generally considered an alternative to cap-and-trade).  So much of the energy of the environmental movement is caught up in carbon pricing, and it has spent so many resources, so much time, and so much, as N and S point out, “political capital”, that it is heart-breaking to criticize the sincere work of so many people.  The overwhelming sense I get, from my contacts and interaction in the environmental movement – and I include my time blogging for – is that the overwhelming majority of environmentalists think that cap-and-trade (again, including carbon taxes) is the only realistic policy for tackling global warming in time to do anything about it.

This stubbornness is the curse of what John Kenneth Galbraith identified 50 years ago as “conventional wisdom”, that is, a large public spends a considerable amount of time and energy understanding and constructing a self-reinforcing set of ideas , and this group of people is loath to give up their hard won understanding and consensus.  Like a scientific paradigm, people can use this conventional wisdom as a basis for further discussion, without going back over  first principles and main tenets every time they want to discuss something.  This makes policy-making more “efficient”, but can put the group adhering to this set of ideas into a kind of death grip – thus the “death of environmentalism”

There was another subject matter of N and S’s original essay that I found very important, one that is always difficult for any “single issue” movement, which is this: at some point, it is almost impossible for an agenda to move forward unless that agenda is linked to other agendas.  One classic example of this is the path of Martin Luther King, who saw that African-Americans, and poor people in general, were never going to thrive economically unless other issues were addressed, such as the struggle of workers to unionize – the effort he was engaged in when he was assassinated – or the resources wasted by a  the society that was immersed in the Vietnam War and militarization.  It is extremely difficult for movements to move out of the confines of the path in which they have been at least partly successful.  The union movement has had the same problem, culminating in the threats to its existence in Wisconsin and elsewhere ( the challenge of which will hopefully re-orient the labor movement to a wider embrace of public issues).

In my opinion, the “Martin Luther King” moment we recently could have had occurred when Al Gore was at the pinnacle of his publicity, after he won the Academy Award for “An Inconvenient Truth” and a Nobel Peace Prize.  He had the opportunity to move beyond the same-old-same-old, but instead he gathered 300 million dollars to use in commercials, a strategy I criticized at the time, because he could have much more profitably used that money to organize at the grassroots level.  Then he joined a venture capital firm, and now he has virtually disappeared from public view (although I can't blame him for wanting to avoid King's fate, whether or not that had anything to do with his decisions)

I’m not saying Gore did not accomplish some very important things, simply that he missed a bigger opportunity.  He remained stuck in the conventional wisdom  of a carbon price, as did most of the rest of the environmental movement.  N and S perhaps lay a little too much emphasis on this grand strategic mistake – the conservative movement and corporate control of government in this country has had a huge impact, for instance.  N and S list 12 theses of how to move out of this mess, but before listing them, I’d like to get back to the broader picture of what constitutes successful environmental policy.

The environmental movement was born insisting on regulation – clean up the air and water, prevent companies from polluting, block the rape of the earth.  This regulatory strategy was actually very successful.  It would have been a much better way to prevent global warming than the carbon pricing strategy, because we could have just legislated something to the effect that we have to get our electricity and transportation from progressively cleaner and cleaner sources, without the spaghetti logic of carbon pricing.  

But there are also limits to regulation.  How do you re-center a transportation system on electric trains, instead of cars, trucks, and airplanes, with regulation?  The answer is, you can’t.  You can’t do it with carbon pricing, either.  It requires something that was an integral part of governmental efforts at building the nation, from Lincoln to the New Deal to Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, that is, the direct intervention of the government into the economy by building infrastructure.

N and S go part of the way toward a government-directed rebuilding program – they advocate for a very large public investment in technological research, in the hopes that we can innovate ourselves out of this mess.  Politically, it’s much more appealing than carbon pricing, for the simple reason that when you talk about spending money to create something that would make peoples’ lives better, it’s an easier sell than the idea that somehow making things more expensive will make things better – or will prevent things from getting really bad.  So N and S are advocating for public investment, which environmentalists have treated as a secondary goal.  

There was a slight burst of enthusiasm for “green jobs” on the part of the environmental and labor movements, which N and S see as another failure of environmentalism.  The problem was and continues to be that a serious effort at creating green jobs and a greener economy requires what the other global centers of manufacturing, Europe, Japan and China, have done, that is, it is necessary to create an industrial policy.  The government has intervened, and continues to intervene, in a massive way in those economices to build a new set of industries.  Contrary to N and S's assertion that the green collar sector is low tech, green industries in other manufacturing countries, such as high-speed rail and wind turbines, are very high-tech.  Americans seem to have an aversion to learning the lessons of other countries or even of their own past, as today’s complete blindness to the successes of the New Deal shows.

Next: the 12 theses of N and S (to come in part 2).

Originally posted to JonRynn on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 07:28 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Yes, the failure to look at environmentalism (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      holistically is a problem, including those who are climate change issues-based alone.

      Of course, the problems of environmentalism, even conservationism, easily leach into racial injustice, indigenous rights, et cetera. It is hard therefore to keep these movements informed enough to compete with multi-billion dollar industry and media-propaganda.

  •  I would have to heartily concur (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with some of their critique. I'm basically an environmentalist circa 1980. I believe strongly in parks and open space, in public transportation, in regulating toxic emissions, in cleaning up the water and the air, in protecting sensitive habitats.

    I couldn't care less about global warming or climate change. Why?

    Number one, I don't think we know enough about the physical universe in which we live to be sure enough what the climate is likely to be in 100 years, such that we should radically re-work our current way of life at considerable cost in treasure and lives (yes, people will die if we make carbon-based energy more expensive) in order to avoid it.

    Second, even if we were sure, I have no confidence in the ability of humanity to act in deliberate concert at the scale that would be required to materially affect the Earth's climate.

    Third, I'm not convinced that the current climate is the one most favorable to human habitation. It certainly isn't the best climate for Africa, most of which is desert in the current regime, but wasn't under other warmer, wetter scenarios in the past.

    Fourth, I am convinced of the incredible ability of humanity to adapt to any particular climate that one can find on Earth. We are a species that lives in the rain forest and the desert, at the poles and at the equator, at the coast and in the mountains, and we've lived through ice ages and retreats. We'll adapt, as will the natural world.

    Fifth, to the extent that we can't adapt, global warming will be self-correcting. The 2008 recession resulted in a far greater reduction in GHG emissions than any cap and trade program ever has. If climate havoc is our fate, the economic effects will be many times worse, with a corresponding reduction in emissions.

    Sixth, in the next 100 years, anyone reading this post is very likely to die, whether or not there is climate change. Guaranteed. So, why not do things environmentally to enhance and protect the lives of people in the hear and now, rather than negatively affecting their lives out of an excessive worry about things that may (or may not) happen 100 years from now?

    •  it doesn't have to be more expensive (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      which is N and S's point, and mine too, you could just build wind networks, etc., but yeah yeah yeah, it's politically impossible, but people should understand that it's technologically impossible

      on point 2, yes, you are probably right, but as long as there is a slight possibility that you are wrong -- and there is, since we can't predict the future -- why not try?

      3, a "new" climate will fry most of the places people currently live

      4, maybe some humans will adapt, but i'd like to save the other 6 billion from a terrible death.  Pre-civilizational earth supported about 8 million people.

      5, the emission reduction will probably come too late

      6, that's one of the big problems with the cap-and-trade framework -- life will get worse if you want to solve the problem.  Not necessary at all.

      •  Pretty much all climate change (0+ / 0-)

        strategies that I've seen bandied about involve raising the price of carbon-based fuels. That will make life more expensive and difficult for billions of people. If you have a solution that doesn't involve raising the price of carbon-based fuels, then I'd probaby be 100% in support.

        The climate will not "fry" people in most places on Earth. Most of us live in warmer places as it is, and, other than deserts, it is only the very cold places like Antartica, Siberia and parts of Northern Canada that are considered uninhabitable. A warmer, more CO2 filled atmosphere means a wetter, greener surface, so I would expect fewer deserts as well.

        We will not go back to "pre-civilizational" Earth. Civilization as we know it began around 10,000 years ago, which happens to coincide with the beginning of the current "interglacial," a relative warm period in which the glaciers are in retreat. Climate change is not going to cause us to lose our currently technological know-how; if anything, it will expedite the rate of technological advancement.  

        I think we are in agreement on the critique of the cap and trade framework. Again, if you can show me how to combat climate change without excessive taxation or artificially raising the price of carbon-based fuels, then I'm in favor.

        •  Energy will cost more (0+ / 0-)

          no matter what we do. The finite nature of our current energy sources will garrantee it.

          In fact, the sooner we can switch over to renewable energy, the less the impact of the price-rise will be.

          But maybe more to the point, we need what's left of the fossil fuel supply to build the infrastucture for utilizing renewable sources in the future. If we don't start building that new infrastucture now, we are going to be in a heap of trouble when oil and gas run out.

    •  Here's a simple analogy (5+ / 0-)

      When an electronics comany delivers a product, it's done basically 4 things: it's bought electronic components like transistors or integrated circuits or switches, etc.; it's assembled those on printed circuit board subassemblies; it assembled the circuit boards in to a final product; it's delivered the product to the customer.

      At each stage, the product is tested. If the cost of finding a bad component (before assembly) is $1, it's $10 at the circuit board level, $100 at final test, and $1000 if the failure isn't found before reaching the customer.

      Climate change follows the same pattern. For all your "gosh! no one really knows" - we do know already. There is no question that ice sheets are melting and glaciers receding. That means rising sea levels and loss of fresh water sources in some places. We can move cities, or build de-salinization plants, but both of those will cost much more than what it would take to remedy the problems before those things happen.

      Similarly, it is certain that the oceans will continue to warm, which will wreak havoc with weather patterns and cause more severe weather. There will be impacts on food production, energy utilization, and even deaths from weather or heat. We can adapt to those things too, at much, much greater cost than if a) those things didn't happen at all, or b) we start planning for those events now, instead of waiting until after they've come true.

      You can say "well, it's only money" and you'd be half right. Some of it is just money - money we aren't willing to spend now, and will be just as unwilling to spend in the future (if we can even afford to spend the sums that will be required for delayed reaction).

      But that's half wrong too - it isn't just money, but human lives and quality of life. Inaction will lead to increased misery, increased deaths, and probably wars over fundamental resources like water or oil.

      And don't fool yourself that this won't affect you. You're already beginning to pay for and experience the effects of climate change, and that will only increase in the future.

      We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

      by badger on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 11:26:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, it's really stupid as a species (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger, HoundDog, Cassiodorus

        to wait.  It might be fatal.  But it is also a good idea to have some ideas, or a plan, that is floating around (no pun intended) when the do-do hits the fan.  And maybe we can prevent a lot of it, although I admit it looks worse and worse, and I am certainly not an optimist when it comes to final stages (say, like a permian situation).  But what the hell, why not figure out a way out?

        •  I agree with that (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HoundDog, Cassiodorus, ban nock

          There's a reasonably good chance we're beyond the relativity easy stage of prevention and should be planning for remediation.

          In some ways that's not hard to do, but, for example, there's no great certainty about whether the Great Plains will be too dry for wheat, too wet for wheat, or just right. I don't have a lot of faith in the ability of climate models to predict the future climate for specific areas very well. But there certainly are things we should be planning for now, even if we need to be extremely flexible and tolerant of errors in predicting the future.

          Of course the bigger problem is we're largely not doing anything on a large enough scale to be significant.

          We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

          by badger on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 11:43:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  This is part of the key question (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        We can move cities, or build de-salinization plants, but both of those will cost much more than what it would take to remedy the problems before those things happen.

        There's so much built into that. First, you make the assumption that a warmer, greener planet will be a drier planet. That seems to be on its face a bad premise. A warmer, greener planet is a wetter planet. Some ice sheets and glaciers will recede, but the total amount of precipitation will increase. Places that are dry now, will become wetter.

        The necessity to move a lot of cities is something that's on the far fringe of the possible. The sea level rise for th elast 100 years is eight inches. Double that for the next 100 years and you're still talking about another foot. Tidal action in most places is on the order of 6-8 feet a day. Sure, people who have property right along the sea shore may enounter some additional expenses, and may even have to move abandon their properties in some cases, but it's not significant on the scale of humanity, which already deals with millions of preventable deaths every year.

        We already have plenty of human misery, deaths, and wars over water and oil, and I can practically guarantee you that no matter what we do about climate change, that will continue to be the case. It's called the human condition.

        I'm sure that if what the scientists are saying is even half true, that it will affect me. I don't fear it though; confronting environmental challenges is what makes us who we are as humans.

        •  Wrong on my assumptions (0+ / 0-)

          for the paragraph you quoted, and generally. I think it's possible that some places will be drier, but overall I'd expect (and I'm no meteorologist) that a warmer planet will be a wetter planet.

          But I'm not picking and choosing assumptions to fit a rosy scenario like you are. Maybe the Sahara will be wetter and Central America drier - I have no idea and I would be skeptical about the accuracy of predictions even at that scale.

          What I do know is that climate change will occur, and, for example, increased rainfall in the Sahara will not make it green. It will simply wash more sand into the Mediterranean. That is the most significant problem, IMO, of climate change - patterns of local existence, like crop choice, building construction standards, heating and cooling and therefore energy demand, are built on climate. If climate changes radically, as in the Sahara example, it is not likely to be a good thing, or something easily accommodated. Kansas is not going to change from wheat and corn to rice paddies overnight if you're right about a much wetter planet - it wouldn't be possible even if you wanted to try it, because the climate transition will take years, not one cycle of season, and crop yields for either crop choice will be low some years and unpredictable.

          The assumption of linearity (8 inch sea level rise in the past 100 years, so the same in the next 100) is also faulty. In the last hundred years you haven't experienced significant events like the reduction of the Antarctic ice pack or the melting of Greenland. You haven't had positive feedbacks like the release of significant amounts of methane from tundra. And population is increasing exponentially still, and in places like China and India, per capita emissions are increasing too.

          Your "people who might have property on the shore" is things like most of the state of FL, or entire islands.

          I think you're advocating a dangerous course for my child, who's 23, and even for me, and I'm 61. But you should be happy that you're getting your way. Most of us aren't.

          We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

          by badger on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 04:15:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You also seem to have this sort of (0+ / 0-)

            assumption of a stable climate absent human intervention, which flies in the face of the geological record. And no, it's not a question of "but naturally it occurs gradually". Not really. The geological record is full abrupt climate changes, as well as more gradual ones.

            It doesn't take that long to migrate crops. There are ruins of farming communities on Greenland from the Middle Ages. Now it's all ice. I'm sure some people might've encountered hardship in the process, but the end of farming communities in Greenland is not recorded in history as a particularly cataclysmic event.

            Even as we speak, people are constantly introducing new crops into different kinds of ecological niches. They are seeing how different varieties work, and they are making new hybrids, and they are genetically engineering them (we'll leave the ethics/environmental issues with GMO aside for the moment). I see no reason to think that if over several decades the climate in a given area changed, that humans would not find new ways to adapt to it.

            Your statement about the sands of the Sahara filling up the Mediterranean doesn't make much sense to me. First, there isn't likely to ever be a problem of "too much sand in the Mediterranean Sea". A little extra sand along the sea shore is usually considered a good thing.

            But more importantly, I see no reason to believe that the vast majority of any new rain that falls in the Sahara would not make its way into the soil. All of the additional rain would not just fall on bare sand where no rain currently ever falls. The semi-arid fringes would become less arid, the moist zones would spread northward, etc. There are already farming communities all around the fringes of the Sahara and along river bottoms. The geological records shows that the Sahara was once wet and verdant, so the potential for the water to be used is clearly there.

            Another positive impact would be Antartica. That's an entire continent that is basically useless to us from the standpoint of human settlement. In a warmer climate regime, it and Greenland, and land that falls within the Artic Circle would all be potentially available for human habitation. A new continent to settle for the first time in 500 years!!! What's so bad about that?

            Yes, there is the nonlinear aspect of some of this. But there are also feedback mechanisms, the most significant of which in my book are economic. If there is climate havoc, the negative economic effects will result in immediate and dramatic GHG reductions. There are also natural feedback mechanisms such as increased cloud cover as well.

            I don't think your 23-year-old is going to live a horrible life because of climate change (maybe something else . . . ).

            •  The geological record is also full of (0+ / 0-)

              extinction events that happened pretty rapidly too - as recently as the disappearance of the Neanderthals and some other hominids.

              I wouldn't be too concerned about the Mediterranean getting filled up with sand, and yes, the Sahara was once green and verdant. That's when it had topsoil. You don't make topsoil of out of sand. The topsoil is all gone - that's why it's a barren desert in most places.

              I live in an area where the soil types, while not the same as sand in the Sahara, are similar (ours is pumice and volcanic ash on top of a deeper layer of sand that's either glacial or volcanic). When it rains, one of two things happens: if the rain is light, the water disappears horizontally; if the rain is heavy, the water disappears more or less vertically, depending on elevation and gradients. But the water doesn't remain where there isn't something to retain it.

              There's no clay layer beneath the surface to trap and hold water, there's no loam or organic material to hold it. And given all that, there's no layer to harbor mychorrizae and other soil organisms that are necessary for plants to absorb nutrients and grow. There probably aren't many nutrients either (depending on the mineral composition of the sand).

              So, sure, after several thousand years the wetter Sahara might be arable or dense forest. Or not. Over the timescale of climate change, more rain in the Sahara won't do much of anything for anyone.

              The alternative though is that in a lot of places that are now arable, if rainfall increases significantly - per event or even seasonally - increased erosion and frequent flooding events will alter the usability of land. It doesn't make any difference what variety of corn or wheat you plant if excessive rainfall washes all the seed down the hill, or flooding rots the seed in the ground. GMOs won't fix that. And that, like the Sahara, gives you additional erosion and runoff problems as well.

              There's more energy being pumped into the climate system, more moisture too, and that's going to make events like rainfall more intense. Yeah, you can deal with those kinds of things, but in a lot of places, we don't now. The statistics on topsoil losses with normal weather patterns are already not very encouraging.

              Being sanguine about this all is like looking at a complex mechanical watch and saying, "Well, there's so many gears in there, if I just take this one out and put in a different one I have laying around, it won't make much difference." Complex systems do develop a certain amount of resistance to change (homeostasis), but when you drive them outside their normal limits of variation, they fail, usually spectacularly. That's where the abrupt climate changes in the geological record come from.

              We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

              by badger on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 11:52:48 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  "the hear (sic) and now" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "So, why not do things environmentally to enhance and protect the lives of people in the hear and now"

      Some of us have kids or grandkids, you know.

      Faby-o, downrec me again. You know I love it!

      by Cheez Whiz on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 02:03:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd say tragedy of the commons (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The US and many other countries are understandably lukewarm on cap and trade when China and much of the developing world doesn't seem eager to sign on.

    Perhaps an environmental movement there is needed first?

    Of course, most proponents of AGW emphasize there isn't time to dawdle, and such movements could take decades to grow...

    •  The "tragedy of the commons" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HoundDog, Nulwee, FishOutofWater

      is really a tragedy of individual actors motivated by the "profit motive" in a world in which the social power which once protected the commons has been stripped of its power.

      Garrett Hardin was at some point obliged by the anthropologists to admit that there were societies which did indeed protect their commons, and that for these societies the "tragedy of the commons" did not apply.  He responded by changing the formula to the "tragedy of the unmanaged commons."

      Hardin, btw, was a Republican.

      "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" -- Gandalf, in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"...

      by Cassiodorus on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 12:43:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  i read "Breakthrough" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, FishOutofWater, ban nock

    and found most of their arguments in the book compelling. However they also are expecting untold billions in green investment that simply has very little chance of passing in our current broken legislative system.

    Lately, it feels like there are too many people who want to talk, write, and receive attention for their env'alism, and not enough people taking action.

    We have 5 people posting eco diaries here at Dkos for each 1 person who reads and recommends them.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    by LaughingPlanet on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 09:07:37 AM PST

    •  eco diaries or eco-econ diaries? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, ban nock

      One of N and S's points is that you can't restrict environmentalism to "just" the environment (thus the death of environmentalism).  What I like about their approach is that they are trying to conflate the two issues.  That is, you have to change the economy to save the environment, but saving the environment could also save the economy, to be simplistic about it.

      They would do that mostly by investing in R&D, which seems to have a bit of support from various circles lately.  I would do it with trillion dollar annual construction projects, which is totally pie in the sky in this political environment.  But it will never be politically possible if people don't at least discuss it.

      •  yup (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Nulwee, ban nock

        like i said, i agree with much of what they say.

        My issue is with the lack of support for one another; the green crowd often seems more interested in jockeying for limelight than working together building a grassroots mov't.

        The diary analogy here is but a microcosm. In short, if someone posts more env'al blogs than he reads/recs, I feel it is generally unhelpful at best.

        Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

        by LaughingPlanet on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 09:34:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  What a relief. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Environmentalism is being reborn in the form of politically unfeasible solutions. More change we can believe in.

    •  so what is a politically feasable solution (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nulwee, ban nock

      that actually solves the problem

      •  none. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        there is no way to stop the advancing decline of our planet.  If you look at the hard numbers and the statistics of humans changing prior to the situation being out of control its unlikely we will do anything to stop ourselves.  A major global financial crash would help since it would prevent the proliferation of the global middle class but that still would just be a speed bump.  When you start to think in terms of 1,000 years it gets dicey.  Humans will likely not be around.  The Earth will start the healing process when we are out of the picture.

        •  Oh we are so helpless (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pat bunny, Nulwee, offgrid, BigVegan

          we can't stop consuming 85 million bbls. of oil every day because we are ADDICTED!  Woe is us!  Boo hoo hoo!

          blah blah blah.

          "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" -- Gandalf, in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"...

          by Cassiodorus on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 12:44:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  you have a very narrow.. (0+ / 0-)

            perspective of the problem if you think oil is the only problem.  It seems the only people that think it can be fixed have some idealistic solution.  You are talking global changes in entire ways civilization has defined development.  If its not oil or coal or nuclear or hydroelectric or on and on and on and on.....  Never in the history of humans have people en masse decided to give up certain comforts. Quit being idealistic and read more.

  •  The gulf coast is poisoned (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hind2, Nulwee, DeepLooker

    and people are dying, and you ask me if environmentalism is dead? I would say the vast majority in the country just don't give a damn.

  •  so long as capitalism is alive... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, OHknighty

    environmentalism is dead.  Its that simple.

    •  so what is the alternative to capitalism? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      myself, I like workplace democracy, i think it would solve a lot of problems.  Perhaps that is also pie-in-the-sky.  To adress your other reply, yes, we are in big trouble, but as long as there is a slim chance of averting disaster than I think it's worth putting force possible solutions.  That doesn't make you unrealistic or nonserious, because the reality is that it is extremely difficult to predict social futures.

      •  I am not predicting social futures... (0+ / 0-)

        its a numbers game.  The average person is causing more and more damage to the Earth every year.  Even if the American average CO2 emission decreased the global number is on the rise as China, India, and others have a growing middle class.  So just look at numbers.  You either have to believe in a LARGE scale population decline (won't happen outside of nuclear war) or you have to believe that humans will go against their breeding instinct for the only time in history and will also, against what is near nature, want less and less.

        There is no slim chance.  There is no chance.  Humans took 150,000 years to get to the first billion. The most recent billion arrived in just 12 years.  With the life span increasing and 100 year olds becoming a fast growing population segment in the US how the hell else can you come to any conclusion?  Its simple.  People will have to agree to fuck less (WILL NOT HAPPEN).  Good luck with that.

      •  This is why nobody believes in environmentalism (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Most environmentalists are apologists for the existing system of political economy.  There is really no way out of the problem outside of putting an end to the capitalist system.  I have to believe that the environmentalists continue to put out garbage because they cannot give up their paid jobs.  Real environmentalism would be post-capitalist.

        There is nothing pie-in-the-sky about ending the capitalist system.  What's pie-in-the-sky is trying to do something that nobody bothers to advocate.  Workplace democracy would succeed if we could find a way of ending public dependency upon "the market" with it.  Therein lies the constructive future.

        Technological quick-fixes, btw, will only supplement, and not replace, the existing system.

        "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" -- Gandalf, in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"...

        by Cassiodorus on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 12:50:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for that -- it is clear to me (0+ / 0-)

    that the United States is on track towards social and economic demise because it is now incapable of regulation and of concerted direct government action. Obama is trying, but rail infrastructure is flat out rejected by Wisconsin and Florida, Ohio is killing transit funding in Cincinnati, etc. Republicans want no government role in the economy other than making unions illegal.

    I thought in 2008 that we would make some progress on climate change at long last. I no longer hold out much hope. I know my own country (Canada) will not act unless pushed by the USA -- there is just too much money in inaction.

    Regulation (especially of power companies is the way to go, but I just do not think that Democrats have the unity or the committment on the issue to put the regs through and then veto the legislation to roll back the regs that will come, come because 4 or 5 Senators can be bought for .01% of the amount of money involved.

    Maybe I am just down today, but I have been involved in environmental politics for 40 years and I have never felt more hopeless than on climate change.

    We have only just begun and none too soon.

    by global citizen on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 10:55:54 AM PST

    •  yeah, it's a pretty depressing scene (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      global citizen

      but maybe it would help to visualize something better, sort of apply well-known individual techniques on a social level.  I don't know how environmentalists do it, it must get very depressing, which is why it would be nice to at least sketch out a "promised land", I would think...again, I know that doesn't sound serious enough...although Lester Brown certainly also gives it a try...

  •  I don't see technology as the solution (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FishOutofWater, ban nock

    It may be part of the solution, but the biggest concerns IMO are behaviors, and probably the biggest behavioral changes needed are in levels and patterns of consumption.

    We simply consume too much energy and too many resources, globally, and more particularly in the US.

    To a large extent, technology is just another increase in consumption, and it's unlikely that we can consume our way out of the problems we face.

    And I say that not as some new-age flaky tree-hugger (although I have hugged trees and may be flaky), but as an electrical engineer and technologist.

    But FWIW, I don't have much faith in cap-and-trade or carbon pricing solutions either.

    We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

    by badger on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 11:35:28 AM PST

    •  No, technology IS the solution (0+ / 0-)

      Point blank, if you tell a nation of 300 million people living in an economy driven by consumer spending to reduce consumption to the point that our C02 emissions fall in line, there will be massive poverty and our cities will collapse.

      Teabaggers will go on living in enclaves in Idaho or Texas, but millions of urban liberals will starve to death.

      No, we need new technology that doesn't use fossil fuels.  My next car will be a Chevy Volt, and I will then never have to buy gasoline for 95% of my daily driving.

      Show me how the US can possibly cut gasoline usage 95% without falling into a massive depression without new tech.  Show me how we can shut down every coal power plant if there's nothing to replace them, without the US falling to 3rd world status.

      You want environmentalism that reduces C02 emissions and breaks the back of the oil companies?  It's called nuclear power and the plug-in hybrid.

      •  There is a cultural problem (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        although I actually don't know that it's a problem of over-consumption.  The biggest cultural problem is exactly the automobile.  Now, i don't know if everyone is going to be able to afford a Volt, but what they can certainly afford are actually existing electric cars, that is, your basic 20 mph/50 mile on a charge cars, which would be perfectly adequate for most suburbs, IF there was a really good rail network that could take care of long-distance traffic.  However, I have a feeling most people would balk at this, even though I don't think it would greatly impinge on lifestyle, in fact, I would argue it might improve it.  

        The other problem associated with this is that you would have to build, at least, quite a few town centers so that people could easily drive to shopping and the rail station.  Again, another cultural problem, although actually everybody did just that pre-car, but my point remains: if you set up a transportation and urban system of that sort (powered by wind energy), you could pretty much have "high" consumption -- assuming some serious recycling -- and very low carbon emissions, and nobody would be groveling through old landfills (I'm also assuming an organic transformation of agriculture, but anyway).

        So I think we need to talk about, not having less tech, but what kinds of tech, and therefore, what kind of culture.

      •  Most could probably cut energy consumption in half (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and not even know it happened. I think forecasts of starvation are a little over wrought.

        "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

        by ban nock on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 01:16:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  technology will not solve a political problem. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        politics first, then technology.  People need to be taught that environmental protection cannot be compromised or "balanced."

      •  Think outside of the box, Norm (0+ / 0-)

        We cannot continue to destroy the last prairies and lowland forests for urbanization.

        Even electric cars many allow us to survive a carbon-clusterfuck climate disaster, but we'll continue to lose biodiversity and suffer from degraded land systems (wildfires, floods, fragmentation, decline)

      •  Here's a simple statistic that I know (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        off the top of my head. The US consumes 25% of the world's forest product production. At the same time, we have drastically reduced our timber production. We are contributing to deforesting the rest of the world, which lacks our environmental standards, and often fails to enforce the standards it has.

        All those forests our consumption is destroying used to sequester huge amounts of carbon, and sequester more carbon each year in biomass growth. The cutover areas are prone to frequent wildfire, especially where swidden agriculture is practiced. Escaped slash and burn fires in Indonesia a few years ago burned millions of acres and contributed something around 10% or more to global CO2 emissions that year. And that's not the only place or only year things like that happen.

        I'd encourage you to buy a Chevy Volt, but your 95% cut in gasoline consumption isn't a 95% cut in energy consumption. The energy you'll be using will come mostly from coal-fired plants, which still release huge amounts of CO2. You just won't see the emissions, but they'll still be there.

        But in a sense, you are proving my point. The Chevy Volt is not a huge, new technological breakthrough - the first hybrid car design I saw was in Mother Earth News in the 1980s. My neighbor has driven a Prius for 3 of 4 years now - basically since they came out. And the Volt is the kind of thing I was talking about - change in behavior, change in consumption patterns. That, IMO, is where the solution lies.

        Things like better insulation, CFLs, more efficient gas furnaces, wind power, etc. aren't technology in the sense I view the argument the diary is discussing.  I take the argument the diary is reviewing as meaning that our solutions lie in magical new technologies that we need to develop. If my view is off base in that interpretation, then maybe we agree more than I thought.

        I just don't think there are going to be new, as-yet-undiscovered technologies that are going to magically save us. I think we need to plan and organize the utilization of technologies we already have. And I definitely don't believe that a technological solution will ever exist that will allow us to maintain our current levels of consumption and waste and still deal with climate change.

        We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

        by badger on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 04:35:06 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, that sounds right (0+ / 0-)

          that there are no 'magic ponies' out there.  you need two, as a matter of fact -- one for electricity and one for oil -- unless you can get the magic ponies of electric cars, electric long-haul trucks, and electric planes (!) to work. On the other hand, when you plow through the verbiage, N and S mostly just want to make solar and wind cheaper.

  •  N&S are delayers, not deniers (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, Nulwee, offgrid

    Research & Tech were the solutions when Carter was president.

    Breakthrough Inst. just produced a crap, debunked paper on energy efficiency improvements backfiring. See debunking at Climate Progress.

    This is environmental "third way" pro-corporate politics.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 12:20:11 PM PST

  •  As long as evil rich people can't make money (0+ / 0-)

    by saving the environment?

  •  If it's dead, how come I am suing 5 corporations? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassiodorus, martinjedlicka

    For violating the Endangered Species Act in Maine?

    My name is Douglas Watts.

    by Pometacom on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 01:14:55 PM PST

    •  didn't mean to say activism is dead (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I think the point is the use of the "ism" of environmentalism, that is, if you are trying to craft policy dealing, in particular, with global warming, then you need a more holistic approach.  N and S tend to make it seem either/or, it's actually both (that is, environmental activism and holistic policies) at the same time.

    •  it's dying because we are currently (0+ / 0-)

      unable to organize individual action into collective political power.

  •  start over (0+ / 0-)

    most people are more likely to be upset about pollution they can see than a gas in the air. Get them back to industrial pollution of rivers, acid rain, and even common litter.

    Next you got to kill the notion that everyone deserves a house. People need to live in apartments. Houses are luxuries. Dense housing is A)Smaller housing(less accumulation of stuff, B)Denser population, C) Easier to accomidate for public transport

    carbon taxes will never be popular in america. ever. especially after they failed so hard in europe to actually control carbon output.

    this isn't a matter of rich people wanting to be able to pollute. they already moved all the polluting factories to china where they don't care.

    hell.. even build apartments on top of grocery stores, walmarts and targets if it can limit carbon output..

  •  environmental organizations have failed. we (0+ / 0-)

    need to create new organizations that can gain enough political power to change the system.

  •  Without addressing the overpopulation issue (0+ / 0-)

    environmentalism is not really going to make all that much difference.

  •  Seems to be dead in dailykos (0+ / 0-)

    A lot of catcalling in my own recent innocuous diary.  I got troll rated a half dozen times.
    It wasn't a perfect diary, but don't think it deserved people wiping their stinking asses all over me.
    I think there is old growth that needs to be pruned out in these parts.

    I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use - Galileo

    by hamm on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 03:13:59 PM PST

  •  Peak Oil, a down economy (0+ / 0-)

    Conservatives recognize that environmentalism threatens extractive schemes for tar sands and hard oil.  Industry regulation cuts into the bottom line, and cap and trade spurred the creation of the tea party, since it was an 'elite' strategy that stood to financially benifit universally hated middlemen such as Goldman Sachs.

    The left has succumbed to a divide and conquer strategy over diminishing spoils and that's why you see pro-nuclear power sentiment peddled on this site as 'environmentalist'.

    With the middle class, and more importantly, the outright poor, suffering under economic recession, a consensus builds that a 'dirty job is better than no job'.  Environmentalism becomes branded as elitist, eggheaded disregard for the struggles of the common man.

    The best solution is to reframe environmental issues as public health ones.  That moves us away from accusations of  'planet worship' on the right and economic revanchism on the left

    "Welcome to Costco, I love you" -- Greetings from "Idiocracy"

    by martinjedlicka on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 03:34:32 PM PST

    •  reframe to be a jobs issue (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      if the military can insure a trillion dollar budget, mostly because they have factories distributed strategically around the country, then we can have wind turbine and high-speed rail factories strategically located around the country, and a lot more of them, until when people think about stopping global warming the first thing that pops into their heads is 'jobs!'  Now that would be a change.

  •  Environmentalism isn't dead (0+ / 0-)

    but environmentalists get trapped in the same narrow thinking that any type of activism tends toward.

    The human brain (or any brain for that matter) works on the principle of reductionism. That is, we are always trying to reduce an issue or problem to a single, simple, solution. This is only natural, and part of our survival requirement. After all, we better damn well be able to focus on that saber-tooth tiger over there, or we will get eaten.

    Just like our eyesight has peripheral vision, but only one point of focus, or we can be hearing a hundred sounds but can "listen" to one, our thinking processes are also always looking to focus on one thing, at least one thing at a time.

    Bill McKibben has the right idea with his “silver buckshot” concept, except that that concept needs to be expanded into many more areas than just methods to produce energy. If we are to change the course of civilization to avert disaster, everything needs to be changed, not only how we produce and use energy, but how we grow and distribute food, how and where we build our houses, what materials and processes we use to make things, and on and on. Just about everything that we humans do needs to change.

     And in order to effect change, every tool in the tool box needs to be utilized. Will pricing carbon emissions alone change our energy usage? No, but it has to be done anyway. Will a massive, government funded, infrastructure rebuild completely change our consumptive society? No, but it has to be done anyway. Will regulation alone do the trick? No, but we have to develop strong regulations anyway. Will market forces do it all? No, but they can still be a powerful tool.

    We need to break out of limited, reductionist, thinking and see every issue as connected, and every course of action toward a better world, as valid. But none of them alone will be the answer.

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