The latest issue of Wired — the "green issue," now de rigueur in the magazine world — has Al Gore on the cover, and the story on his "resurrection" is fantastic. It’s one of the best things I’ve read on his post-2000 activities.
Some of the rest of the issue, however, is irritating — nothing so much so as this risible chart by Josh Rosenblum, a rating of various environmental groups based on a set of scientific criteria known as How Much They Agree With Josh Rosenblum. The more green groups collaborate with private industries and support (as far as I can tell, any) high-tech responses to environmental problems, the closer they come to Wired true north. Any tension with business, or reservations about nuclear power or coal gasification … well hell, that’s just hippie.
And speaking of hippies: the "Rise of the Neo-Greens" practically bursts a blood vessel admiring the clever young fashionistas "triangulating between the hippies and the hip."
But green aesthetes aren’t just about blaming the runway set. They’re also taking aim at what [Howard] Brown calls "hippie conservatism," the hand-wringing gloom and doom that equates virtue with a conspicuous lack of style. Brown and his peers are willing to utter the unspeakable truth: Hemp ponchos and vegan sandals are butt-ugly, and most people who wear them look ridiculous.
I hear a lot of this kind of talk about the oh-so-bold step of rejecting hippie fashion. But is calling hemp ponchos and vegan sandals butt-ugly really "unspeakable"? Because to my ears it sounds utterly trite. There may be older environmentalists who wear frumpy clothes and eschew high style. Gosh, there may be some environmentalists who don’t even care much about fashion (it’s true!). But the old hippie who views frumpy clothes as some kind of ideological purity test — the one who advocates for frumpy clothes — is just a convenient myth.
There is no "hippie conservatism," not as a live option in today’s culture. Whatever the merits of aligning your craving for hip personal style with your environmental principles, perhaps it’s not quite as heroic as some folks seems to think.
Also grating are the little sidebars throughout the issue. One valorizes Shellenberger & Nordhaus, who share Wired‘s unearned hipper-than-thou self-regard. Another goes giddy over nuclear power, and begins with this: "Solar. Wind. Hydro. As replacements for fossil fuels, they’re not enough." Oh? Another uncritically embraces the Schweitzer crusade for coal gasification; yet another does the same to ethanol.
All this borderline-masturbatory tech boosterism is introduced with a sensible if too-short piece by Alex Nikolai Steffen (now with more moniker!), who is on record opposing nuclear power and blasting the illusion that light-green lifestyle choices amount to an adequate environmental ethic. Worldchanging shares Wired‘s general optimism about human ingenuity and innovation — as do I — but what it offers, and Wired lacks, is a critical eye and some broader perspective. (But hell, it’s not like I’d turn down the opportunity to write a Wired cover story.)
Anyway, this post is probably bitchier than strictly necessary. But as environmental consciousness becomes cool, I’d really prefer it not also become faddish and vain, and I’d prefer not too much crap be dumped on the caricatured heads of the activists who came before us and laid the groundwork for this resurgence. All the glossy-magazine coverage is uncomfortably redolent of late-90s tech hype. To paraphrase ex-Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, let’s keep our exuberance rational. This is one bubble we can’t afford to have burst.