As the mood of the Cancun Conference tells us there is no realistic hope that anything meaningful can happen to stop the effects of climate-change. The United States has, from the beginning of the process, dragged its feet on taking responsibility for doing anything, however minor, to stop the process of climate-change. There’s a lot of noise and rhetoric that has come out of the government and corporations in order to mount PR campaigns but it is without substance.
Even clear win-win situations like providing funding for green-energy as a way to revive struggling American funding is underfunded and cruelly mishandled. I refer here to an article written by Monica Potts in the American Prospect that shows that government money to train workers for green jobs does not and will not translate into real jobs because there’s little support for the alternative-energy industry and the dominant fossil fuels industry who thrive on public subsidies for their cheaper energy don’t want competition. The government, as near as I can tell, has no intention of even attempting to support anything like the Kerry-Lieberman bill which would have been a start in moving us towards strengthening the industry and slowly weaning us from the domination of fossil fuels. Of course the administration knows any environmental bill is DOA in today’s political atmosphere of gridlock.
Most important to this issue and the reason I believe activists should change tactics and de-emphasize climate-change and environmental legislation is that the American people are just not interested in the environment. To most Americans the "environment" is Dancing with the Stars and other entertainments. As we quickly transition to a life that is mainly one of interacting with technology, the natural world around us is just a quarry for our buildings and a sewer for our wastes. Science and logic are themselves in retreat and unlikely, given the state of our educational system, about to make a comeback other than as narrow specialties where "scientists" become corporate-oriented bureaucrats doing as they are told and bean-counters dependent on funds from the military and intel sources or large corporations. Poll after poll has shown that only a minority of Americans fully "believe" in the theory of evolution and similar polls note that most Americans believe in Satan and Hell and around a third of the people believe the Bible is literally true—in other words they believe in the impossible. The Bible cannot be literally true because it contains clear contradictions—it could still be "true" in a metaphorical sense but it simply cannot be true and if you believe that then you are utterly deluded and can just as easily say that the earth is flat of the cow actually jumped over the Moon. In this cultural atmosphere rational discussion is almost impossible. While about 73% of Americans still believe global warming/climate change is a fact only one in three Americans believe human activity is chiefly responsible for global warming. Interesting symmetry that the number of Americans who believe climate-change is caused by human activity and Biblical literalists are equal.
But this is only the background. Solid leadership by political leaders and the mainstream media would, I believe, substantially change those numbers. Unfortunately the era of the "responsible" press is clearly over and unlikely to re-emerge. I think it should be obvious by now by looking at content of today’s news that we will only see further regression into more nonsense and info-tainment. Also, we need to understand that American hegemonic power in the world is deeply linked to oil and the oil economy. The American elites believe, like Dick Cheney, that the American Way of Life is non-negotiable. That "way" is based on massive use of energy in every sector of the economy. Waste is de rigeur for the American standard of economic development. The whole imperial project of having hundreds of military outposts throughout the world particularly in the oil producing areas of the world have a clear reason. We control the world’s energy supplies and thus control the world. China cannot, for example, just choose to completely ignore American demands because, ultimately, the U.S. can and will shut down the shipping lanes that bring oil to China. It can and will arrange for the Saudis to cut off oil to almost any place in the world that does not cooperate with us. This is, in fact, the main cause of the pressure to go to war with Iran—to eliminate a source of oil we can’t control. The existential threat to Israel or Saudi Arabia is not the main issue. Thus regardless of science both the American people and the American oligarchy do not want to have anything to do with "going green" except as PR exercises and don’t want anything to do with actually working towards dampening down global warming and climate change or any other environmental issue.
Activism favoring doing something about anything to do with the environment can go nowhere. There isn’t the cultural context of a people increasingly depending on fantasies and consumer goods to find meaning to allow environmental activism to have any resonance. As long as the way of life we all seem to favor still is the "American Dream" for most people we will live in a wasteful anti-environmental and short-term thinking society. Economic growth is on top of the agenda for people on the left, right and center at this time. The worse the economic environment is the more people will focus strictly on short-term and unsustainable solutions offered them by an increasingly powerful ruling class based on corporate/state power. Activism, in the usual definition of the word is pretty useless right now.
What to do? Well, Chris Hedges urges us to resist if for no other reason to keep the flame of human dignity and our own personal sense of integrity going—I think that’s a good reason. He means, of course, dragging our feet, not cooperating with the system, a modified version of monkey-wrenching and so on. Bill McKibben is pessimistic and urges us to
...hunker down, concentrate on essentials, and create the type of community (in the neighborhood, but also on the Internet) that will allow us to weather trouble on an unprecedented scale. Change—fundamental change—is our best hope on a planet suddenly and violently out of balance.
I offer something else. Focus on the central vision not of saving the environment but saving our civilization and each other. We should focus strictly on returning logic and reason to the center of public discourse. To battle even those we agree with to use logic rather than slogans and to call out those that do without mercy. The central enemy is propaganda and manipulation of the public via Orewellian methods. We fight the right not because of their policies but because of their lack of reason and contempt for science. We attack their religion particularly those that believe in completely insane notions like the Bible being literally true while giving those who believe the Bible is divinely inspired alone because that belief is not a prima facie example of irrationality—it can be defended. We must attack nationalistic and neo-fascist ideologies like American Exceptionalism which 60% of the American people actually believe including many who post here which is almost as irrational as the belief in the literal truth of the Bible. And I say this as one who believes that most of reality is mysterious but without reason we are helpless in the face of forces that will swallow us up.
Activism should move away from single issues whether environmental or moral. War is a bad thing but the logic of the wars must be challenged rather than the wars themselves. Any reasonable person will look at, say, the War in Afghanistan and conclude that the objectives stated are not the same as how the war is, in fact, being prosecuted. Supporters of the war must either admit the real reason why the war is being fought or be called out as irrational. An example the kind of attitude that is the right way to do is an excellent talk given this month by Glenn Greenwald. He gives a clear explanation of civil liberties as enunciated in the Bill of Rights and a clear and masterful explanation of why "terror" and "terrorism" are meaningless terms. Anyone regardless of political persuasion should be called-out of ever using those terms as if they meant anything—they don’t and Greenwald clearly says why that is.
The environmental movement is too important to give up on. But I think we must give up on it in order to save it. Without an agree-upon standard of truth and logic we can do nothing peacefully. The alternative is revolutionary violence.