The New New Environmentalism
September 20, 2007 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Not ones for subtlety, the Death of Environmentalism guys (previously) are at it again with a Manifesto for a New Environmentalism. Their Apollo Alliance is getting early support from both Clinton and Obama. But it's not the only "new environmentalism" out there. There's this New Environmentalism, while others would include both market-based approaches among the the idols of old environmentalism.
posted by salvia (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is this where like couples go have sex in the forest to protest some shit or something?
posted by four panels at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Naw, you must be having flashbacks again, four panels.

The Manifesto is one of the most unabashedly boosterish, pro-growth, statements I've heard from "environmentalists," which I guess is their point, and so I was curious what people thought:
Nor should we want to dramatically curtail energy consumption......Environmentalists can rail against consumption and counsel sacrifice all they want, but neither poor countries like China nor rich countries like the United States are going to dramatically reduce their emissions... Given this, the challenge we face as a species is to roughly double global energy production... while simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half worldwide... so that we can avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

How could such a massive undertaking be achieved? Not, as environmental leaders insist, by limiting human power but rather by unleashing it....

The kind of technological revolution called for by energy experts typically does not occur via regulatory fiat. We did not invent the Internet by taxing telegraphs...Nor did the transition to the petroleum economy occur because we taxed, regulated, or ran out of whale oil....

And, contrary to conventional wisdom, private firms rarely initiate technological revolutions. Indeed, government has always been at the center of technological innovation...

Big, long-term investments in new technologies are made only by governments and are almost always motivated by concerns about national security or economic competitiveness, from the threat of the Soviet Union in the 1950s to opec in the '70s. The Internet (originally Arpanet) was created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was itself established in response to the Soviet Union's launching of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957.... And today's highly mature energy markets are the result of decades of subsidies for coal mining and oil drilling.
I ask because at the other end of the spectrum are people arguing that environmentalists should abandon markets, nay capitalism, altogether. Then, Bush appointees and the Reason Foundation are saying the government should just promote private sector cooperation sans major government investments. What do you think?
posted by salvia at 2:10 PM on September 20, 2007

Well it certainly sounds a lot more practicable than 'old' environmentalism, which although it looks good on paper, manages to alienate pretty much everyone except for the comfortable Western middle class.

That said, I'd be wary of just trying to continue to pursue technologies that allow us to increase the population further and further, particularly if they are not sustainable in the long term or don't lead towards some sort of outlet for the population (permanent off-planet populations). Endlessly increasing the population -- even with SimCity-style fusion power plants -- doesn't seem like a great idea. Eventually you'll hit some sort of hard limiting condition, and I strongly suspect that quality of life will be dramatically impacted before that.

Clean energy combined with that basket of technological and cultural discoveries which result in self-limiting populations* seems to be the best recipe I can see for environmental sustainability.

* Birth control, equal rights for women, social stability and retirement that doesn't rely on producing children or new workers, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:37 PM on September 20, 2007

The highest objective of anyone concerned about global warming must be to bring down the real price of clean energy below the price of dirty energy as quickly as possible--most importantly, in places like China. And, for that to happen, we'll need a new paradigm centered on technological innovation and economic opportunity, not on nature preservation and ecological limits.

Our current scientific understanding does not seem to indicate that cheaper energy is possible. This guy can be summarized thusly:

* Fossil fuels are bad for the environment. The evidence would suggest that we will really screw ourselves over hard if we don't stop using them.
* But everyone wants to use fossil fuels!
* The only logical next step is not to force people to curb their consumption, but to bank everything on the possible discovery of an alternate fuel source that is both cleaner and cheaper than fossil fuels - something we have no compelling reason to believe will be forthcoming.
posted by phrontist at 3:52 PM on September 20, 2007

Science: Hey dude, we're fucking up the planet. It's quite likely we've done irreversible damage, but if we act now we can mitigate things somewhat. Oh, and we're running out of oil - but we're not sure how much longer we have.
World: Really?
Science: Yeah.
World: Are you sure?
Science: Yup.
World: Hmm...
Science: Seriously, get on this.
World: Snap! It appears you're right. Well, you boys better get on this and invent some magical alternative, because we're sure as hell not going to let mere physical limitations impact our perpetual economic growth strategy and irresponsible procreation.
Science: Uh... we're working on it, but might it not be a good idea to scale back in case we don't discover it, or it's not possible?
World: Ah, don't be so modest, you eggheads 'll figure it out.
posted by phrontist at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

Environmentalists can rail against consumption and counsel sacrifice all they want, but neither poor countries like China nor rich countries like the United States are going to dramatically reduce their emissions if doing so slows economic growth.

China is a poor country now? This chinese stock market index fund is up 75% since the beginning of the year.

And, by the way, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find another country besides China that is both poor and produces a lot of CO2.

Anyway, my feeling is that any global warming solution based on technology alone is pure techno-libertarian fantasy. It's going to require some restrictions and taxes on oil and coal.

Energy use, including in China and India needs to be taxed a rate to make clean energy more cost effective.
posted by delmoi at 4:47 PM on September 20, 2007

Well it certainly sounds a lot more practicable than 'old' environmentalism, which although it looks good on paper, manages to alienate pretty much everyone except for the comfortable Western middle class.

Well except for the whole actually saving the environment. If we can get clean energy cheaper then fossil fuels, that would solve all our problems. Also, it would be great if we could use Robots in Iraq to fight our wars rather then real troops. But that doesn't actually matter.
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2007

Standard Oil's gone solar powered,
All try to make a buck,
I'll sit around and smoke cigarettes,
and babble, 'What the fuck'

-Hüsker Dü, "The Newest Industry"
posted by oats at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2007

So, phrontist, the part these guys would add this to your dialogue is -- "World: Well, how about if we gave you $500 billion over ten years?"

People said it was impossible to go to the moon, too. Don't you believe in progress? Don't you want to unleash human power?
posted by salvia at 5:17 PM on September 20, 2007

bring down the real price of clean energy below the price of dirty energy

Can this be turned on its head? Bring the price of dirty energy UP above the real price of clean energy (taxation? rationing? propaganda campaign based on the morality of consumption?)

On another point, what drives me crazy about debates like this, is both sides sound so REAsonable. You're reading it and going yeah okay, that makes sense. And then Side 2 points out what Side 1 isn't telling you, and then Side 1 counters with some bullshit that Side 2 is propagating. And there's no sense that some of Side 1 is right and some of Side 2 is right, and everyone is well-meaning so let's come together. Instead, Side 2 says if you believe in Side 1 then you are clearing a fascist-communist-atheist-fundamentalist child rapist and I won't even talk to you.

You end up not trusting anyone. I just can't believe that this is all either-or. Why have we gotten to the point where reasonable people can't just be forthright, instead of always villifying some "other." Why is this a political debate?

Or am I just hopelessly naive.
posted by nax at 5:26 PM on September 20, 2007

you are clearly...
posted by nax at 5:26 PM on September 20, 2007

China is a poor country now?

China is a big country. It's like three rich countries and five poor ones, all mixed together.

It's rather bizarre that these "New Environmentalists" pretend to think about energy demand 100 years into the future, but don't mention that whole "peak oil" thing, which virtually everyone concedes will have happened by then. Never mind the multifarious other environmental problems the world faces, conspicuously absent of any mention in something billed as an environmentalist manifesto. It can't be simple here ignorance, can it?

"dealing with smog and acid rain required relatively simple and inexpensive technical fixes"

Oh, acid rain. Good thing that one was so easy to deal with. I think these "New" environmentalists are not environmentalists at all, but I'm not sure exactly what they are. That the author is a political strategist from American Environics may suggest some possibilities. Let's hope it's one of the less nefarious of those.
posted by sfenders at 5:43 PM on September 20, 2007

Read this and you'll give up any ideas of environmental activism. It's a wholly lost cause.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2007

fff: that's a circular link.
posted by delmoi at 6:37 PM on September 20, 2007

"The world isn't going anywhere. WE ARE!" - George Carlin

Environmentalism was futile before the first seal clubber was reported. Greenpeace has been in existence for thirty-five years. This year they [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST LINK HERE].
posted by ZachsMind at 7:28 PM on September 20, 2007

I think at this point all we can do is decorate our handbasket.
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:58 PM on September 20, 2007

Trippy. I dunno why, but Opera has been a real bastard about cut-and-paste lately.

It was a link to an op-ed about how regardless how much we try to cut back our harm to the environment, the inevitable and unstoppable urbanization of China and even Dubai outpace us tenfold. What we do here will have no effect in the big scheme of things.

It was a rather pessimistic view.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:36 PM on September 20, 2007

My sentiments exactly, phronist. Reassuring to hear. I think the article is making a false dichotomy - we need to both reduce CO2 and to start a Manhattan Project for energy.

I think they are making a lot of assumptions about values and lifestyles. We need more energy, but this is also a golden opportunity to question and re-invent the way we do everything.
posted by AppleSeed at 5:30 AM on September 21, 2007

This is the new tactic-- to wear the trappings of environmentalism without any of its substance in order to convince people that ecological limitations are an illusion, and that real environmentalists are just limited in their perspective. It sets up a false dichotomy-- on the one hand, there is a promise that we could erase ecological limitations by maintaining the status quo, and by placing faith in a miraculous mirage of shiny new technologies. On the other hand, we could deal with the limitations by making some really tough choices.

Which is easier? Which is more appealing? Why are the scientists always so dire? Can't they see the possibilities?

Yes, and they've laid them out in stark relief. The problem is, people are getting discouraged and giving up before it's even really gotten bad yet. Whether the world has the maturity and the vision to work within the actual possibilities is the test that will most greatly affect future generations.

phrontist has it, exactly.
posted by Tehanu at 7:39 AM on September 21, 2007

The relationship between the "Death of Environmentalism" paper authors (Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus) and the Apollo Alliance is not as positive as the FPP may suggest. It is not "their" Apollo Alliance.

From Apollo Alliance member, Sierra Club:

Of particular concern to [Apollo] Alliance partners is the suggestion in the paper, real or implied, that the Apollo Alliance's model green jobs investment plan released last year, was, in any way, a complete "solution" to the climate change challenge we face. The Apollo vision is animated by the strength of environmental values and the vitality of a popular movement that is one of the great hopes for re-tooling the nation's policies to create clean energy jobs, a sustainable economy, and a safer world.

Most disturbingly, to me and the Apollo team, was that the paper was not in the spirit of our project, which has been seeking for the last two years to evangelize and create innovative new alliances and partnerships for tomorrow -- not practice the "push-off" politics of the past.

These at-times painstaking efforts have sought to balance the passions of many, many stakeholders; and so it was disappointing to me and the Apollo team to see the passions of a few, however well meant, to raise their voices over others. It is not how we operate, and it's surely not how we will succeed together.


Carl Pope
Executive Director
Sierra Club

posted by Tehanu at 8:13 AM on September 21, 2007

Oh, interesting, Tehanu. I'll have to read up on that more. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by salvia at 2:21 PM on September 21, 2007

I've got three things to say to the Manifesto:
1) The big elephant in the room is the exponential population growth, particularly in third world countries. Birth control needs to be a part of the solution.
2) We do not need either or policies. Vaclav Havel just wrote a great article in the NYT, about 'Moral Footprint'. Global warming is a problem that needs to be attacked on all fronts, including personal responsibility, technology, business, and policy. Any of these areas alone will not do it.
3) One thing the environmentalists have done a poor job at is in the marketing of a green solution to the general public. The reason is they have not really defined their product yet, and they do not understand the psychology of their audience. These are the pillars principles of marketing/advertising 101.

posted by lamarguerite at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2007

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