Greens need a vision of the future that they can agree on
Imagine for a moment that you are not an environmentalist. You have basically positive feelings toward environmental protection, but haven’t much looked into the specifics. You’re vaguely aware that global warming is out there, and it’s bad; you’re vaguely aware that we import too much oil from the Middle East, and that’s bad; you’re vaguely aware that Bush is not very good on the environment, and that’s bad, though not a big deal compared to, say, terrorism.
Imagine, in short, that you are like most U.S. citizens.
Now, say you hear the State of the Union speech (or see headlines about it the next day). Bush acknowledges that America is addicted to oil and proposes funding for some alternative energy programs. Not huge money, but at least he’s addressing the issue. The environmentalists got what they wanted, right? But noooo … there they are on TV, in the newspapers, denouncing his speech, denouncing his programs, complaining about ethanol, complaining about nuclear, complaining about hydrogen, and on and on.
Obviously nothing will satisfy these people, right? Nothing except halting economic growth completely and turning out all the lights. Shivering in the dark.
Now, we know this isn’t true. We know there’s a positive, prosperous, fulfilling vision of a green future. But for various reasons — having to do with the incentives that drive the national media, the history of the environmental movement, the propaganda successes of its enemies, and, let’s face it, the lack of media savvy of many green spokesfolks — the primary exposure many people, not only in the public but in positions of power, have to environmentalists is when greens rise up en masse to attack. Or rather: to bitch and moan.
In a recent post, Joel Makower lamented this tendency to make “perfection the enemy of the good.” This site is as guilty as any. We have been speaking up critically about the recent rush to embrace biofuels as our energy future. There have also been critical comments about Bush’s statements on oil, some recent Democratic legislation aimed at encouraging fuel-efficient cars, nuclear power, last year’s energy bill … etc. etc.
There are two overlapping issues raised in this regard. One is the public’s perception of the environmental movement, which is important, but a touch narcissistic, and frankly I’m a little sick of it.
A second, more substantive issue is the affect environmental naysaying has on, you know, reality — the actual course of events. As Lester Brown said to me the other day, if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s unlikely you’ll get there. Right now America is entering the first stages of an enormous transition, and it’s an open question how it will turn out. We may go green, but it would be just as easy, maybe easier, to head in the direction of growing inequality, greater nationalism and xenophobia, hyper-militarism, and economic decline.
The road in the latter direction is clear. And the forces pushing in that direction — primarily the federal government, which, never exactly a paragon of far-sighted leadership, has after five years of Republican rule rotted to the core and been sold out almost entirely to the business lobby — are tidal, and extremely difficult to counter.
So what’s the countervailing vision? What’s pushing in the other direction? What’s the green future? What do greens want, and what exactly are they asking the American people to sign on to?
I think the answer is far from clear even inside the green community, and entirely opaque outside it. In the absence of any clear, easily digestible green vision of the future, its enemies fill in the blanks with the bogeymen of socialism and Luddism.
That’s not to say there is no vision. There are lots of books on the subject (I just finished one). And there’s Worldchanging, at this point probably the most voluminous collection of “points of light” in the media world.
But most efforts thus far lack in two respects:
- They don’t command widespread assent and endorsement among the various kinds of greens (dark greens, “geo-greens,” casual consumer greens, etc.), and
- they don’t fit on an index card.
What we need, I think, is a short statement of goals and principles. An answer to the question, “what do you want?” So that when we criticize — and we will — we can also say, “there’s a better way, and look, here it is on this index card.”
I want something that can be read on a bus trip. Something that can be summarized on a Sunday morning cable show segment. Maybe even with a fun acronym! Something that’s broad enough to command widespread assent, but substantive enough to carry real consequences.
All of which is an enormously logorrheic way of saying: For kicks, I’m going to try to come up with one. An index-card manifesto! I’ll try to crank out a draft in the coming week or so. I’d love to hear feedback on it.