Death of Environmentalism Update

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Gone and hopefully soon forgotten

Back in 2004 environmentalists Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger released a report at the annual meeting of environmental sugar daddies (Environmental Grant Makers) in Washington, DC, giving them the unwelcome news about The Death of Environmentalism [PDF]. In that report they declared that environmentalism had devolved into being merely another special interest. And worse yet, a special interest that was stuck proposing the same brain dead policies of reduce, reuse, and recycle as the solution to all environmental problems. 

They pointed out that environmentalists were still peddling Malthusian doom-and-gloom and preaching hair-shirt sacrifice. Thus did environmentalists turn off possible supporters because they were invested in telling the public "I have a nightmare" stories rather than delivering "I have a dream" speeches.

Since 2004, they have concluded that the only way to address man-made global warming is by accelerating technological progress. They believe that government subsidies can call new cheap low-carbon energy technologies into existence. I have my doubts. Nevertheless, they do understand that our environmental problems will not be solved by imposed collective sacrifice, but instead by unleashnig human technical genius. The two gave a talk, The Long Death of Environmentalism, at Yale University that clearly articulates this point well:

The great ecological challenges that our generation faces demands an ecological politics that is generative, not restrictive. An ecological politics capable of addressing global warming will require us to reexamine virtually every prominent strand of post-war green ideology.

From Paul Erlich's warnings of a population bomb to The Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth," contemporary ecological politics have consistently embraced green Malthusianism despite the fact that the Malthusian premise has persistently failed for the better part of three centuries. Indeed, the green revolution was exponentially increasing agricultural yields at the very moment that Erlich was predicting mass starvation and the serial predictions of peak oil and various others resource collapses that have followed have continue to fail.

This does not mean that Malthusian outcomes are impossible, but neither are they inevitable. We do have a choice in the matter, but it is not the choice that greens have long imagined. The choice that humanity faces is not whether to constrain our growth, development, and aspirations or die. It is whether we will continue to innovate and accelerate technological progress in order to thrive.

Human technology and ingenuity have repeatedly confounded Malthusian predictions yet green ideology continues to cast a suspect eye towards the very technologies that have allowed us to avoid resource and ecological catastrophes. But such solutions will require environmentalists to abandon the "small is beautiful" ethic that has also characterized environmental thought since the 1960's. We, the most secure, affluent, and thoroughly modern human beings to have ever lived upon the planet, must abandon both the dark, zero-sum Malthusian visions and the idealized and nostalgic fantasies for a simpler, more bucolic past in which humans lived in harmony with Nature.

Amen.

Whole Yale talk here.