Nobody fights for change unless they see there’s a problem
Ugh. So my local paper decided to print its own local blend of Nordhaus-Shellenberger drivel. Did you know that "it’s time to stop blaring dire warnings about the perils of climate change and, instead, start enthusiastically proclaiming solutions"? I sure didn’t. It’s not as if people like Amory Lovins, Paul Hawken, Bill McKibben, or I dunno, Gar Lipow have spent years talking about exactly that. It’s not like the central message adopted by successful climate change activists for the last decade has been "hey, this will be easy and make you money!"
See, I thought I’d read Lovins’ Natural Capitalism, all about solutions, when the paperback was put out in 2000. But apparently not!
Boy, if it weren’t for the timely warnings of Nordhaus or Shellenberger, the environmental movement might not have embraced their positive brand of technological fixes and business-friendly activism … ten years ago.
Nope. Apparently, we’ve all been going around in funeral dress, like flagellants during the Black Death. But that caricature is not even what bothers me, so much as the implied dishonesty.
I hate to break it to anybody who hasn’t been paying attention, but things aren’t good, and they’re not getting better. Things are bad, and they’re getting worse. When the UN releases reports saying "humanity’s survival is at stake," things are fucking bleak. I don’t see why the green movement should respond to that kind of news by putting on a happy face, or by trying to sidestep the issue.
The core of any advocacy has to be a clear-eyed appraisal of what we’re doing. That includes, in this case, the extent of the damage humanity is doing to the earth and to our future. Anyone who says we should downplay that, or sidestep it, is saying we should lie to the public, loudly and consistently, about the most important issue facing us today.
The wider problem, of course, is that N&S (and their Canadian co-conspirators) are adding to the biggest problem that bedevils the United States (and Canada!) today: the unwillingness to believe that reality is, uh, reality. The belief that what’s standing in the way of solutions is something as trivial as marketing. If only, they argue, greens hadn’t alienated people with their scare-mongering, we’d already be reducing our carbon emissions and have saner policies.
Do these people even live on Planet Earth? The problem isn’t that environmentalists have made change sound too difficult or too scary, it’s that large fractions of the American public don’t even believe that carbon emissions are responsible for climate change. (In 2007, one in five Americans still didn’t believe in climate change. The popularity of gravity, or those dragons that eat ships over the horizon, was not determined.) It’s nonsensical to argue that greens have alienated people with doom and gloom when the largest stumbling block to sensible policies is that many people don’t believe the problem exists.
And if sizable minorities already don’t believe there’s a problem, how do we serve the cause by soft-pedaling the bad news? How do we motivate people who are already wavering about the changes that are necessary if we stop talking about why those changes are necessary?
I don’t believe that environmentalism needs to be based in fear. Indeed, I have joined others in this space arguing precisely the opposite. And I believe — and believed, long before this latest round of happy-talk-boosterism — that a strong green movement is one that has solutions at the ready, and can lead the way forward. But the initial impulse for change has to be there, and the reason any of us are environmentalists in the first place is the real, ongoing, and worsening damage we’re doing to the natural world, right?
I dunno about the rest of you, but I didn’t sign up for the "lie to people to make them feel better" job. Good thing too, because clearly I’d suck at it.