On the Reuters blog this past Friday, Zachary Karabell picked up some themes we’ve addressed here from time to time and suggested that much of the green-induced hysteria and pessimism over climate change is counterproductive:
That the planet is getting warmer there should be no doubt… It does not, however, follow that the future arc of these changes is disastrous. Unwanted, unwelcome and uneasy? For sure. Potentially lethal? Yes. But so much of the debate over the past 30 years has been over what is causing climate change, and how to prevent more change from happening, that comparatively less energy has been spent on adapting to it. In part, those most focused on these issues, from Green parties in Europe to environmentalists in the United States, have often believed that any discussion of mitigating the effects of climate change is tantamount to giving up on preventing it. That has led to a jeremiad mentality, epitomized by Al Gore and the scathing warnings of what lies ahead in his hugely influential 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth.
The advantage of that approach was that it alerted many to the dangers of climate change; the disadvantage was that it scared people into passivity and closed fruitful avenues to policies focused on mitigating the effects rather than halting the trend. And while halting the trend might have been feasible (just) 20 years ago, the most we can achieve now is to reduce the rate and intensity of climate change until the world’s population levels off sometime in the middle of the 21st century. Activists can and should still focus on reducing global emissions, but not at the expense of answering how we will live with the change.
The core weakness in much green policy making (other than emotionalism and the naivete which allows clever vested interests to roll the greens repeatedly on issues like ethanol) is that many green thinkers and activists think that progress and economic development is an enemy to be feared rather than a force to be ridden. The main business before the world economy today, the driving force that is pushing us all into the future, is the rise of the information economy. We are substituting the movement and manipulation of information for the movement and manipulation of matter as the core of our economy.
If greens understood that better, they would understand that economic progress is their friend. Promoting growth, promoting innovation, reforming our social and political institutions to take full advantage of the new economic prospects: this will do more to sustain the environment than all the carbon treaty conferences ever held.
In 2013 at Via Meadia we are going to be doing our best to show concretely what this means. The manufacturing society of the twentieth century — the Fordist system of mass production and mass consumption — is the enemy of the environment, not its friend. The development of a new kind of society, first in countries like the United States and then in the developing world, will help countries like China and India avoid the trap of trying to recreate an energy intensive blue social model as they progress.
A post-blue economy will be better for greens than what we have now; environmentalists should be pushing humanity forward, not trying to slow it down.