Environmentalist’s End Game

It’s always been out there for anyone to see; just not seen enough, but this column by Joel Kotkin takes a good look.

An excerpt.

What is the endgame of the contemporary green movement? It’s a critical question since environmentalism arguably has become the leading ideological influence in both California government and within the Obama administration. In their public pronouncements, environmental activists have been adept at portraying the green movement as reasonable, science-based and even welcoming of economic growth, often citing the much-exaggerated promise of green jobs.

The green movement’s real agenda, however, is far more radical than generally presumed, and one that former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach said is defined by a form of “misanthropic nostalgia.” This notion extends to an essential dislike for mankind and its creations. In his book “Enough,” green icon Bill McKibben claims that “meaning has been in decline for a long time, almost since the start of civilization.”

And you may have thought the Romans and ancient Chinese were onto something!

Rather than incremental change aimed at preserving and improving civilization, environmental activists are inspired by books such as “Ecotopia,” the influential 1978 novel by Berkeley author Ernest Callenbach. He portrays an independent “green” republic based around San Francisco, which pretty much bans fossil fuels and cars and imposes severe limits on childbearing. These measures are enforced by a somewhat authoritarian state.

Malthusian roots

“Ecotopia” also draws on the green movement’s Malthusian origins, which well predate concerns over climate change. Robert Malthus (1766-1834), a Protestant cleric and scholar, believed that rapid population growth would lead to mass impoverishment and starvation.

Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book “The Population Bomb” helped revive the Malthusian ethos, in decline during much of the 20th century, with his hoary predictions of imminent mass starvation in the Third World. Not that he had much hope for richer countries.

“By the year 2000,” he predicted, “the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people. … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

Good thing Ehrlich is not a professional gambler – and that he didn’t control policy apparatus. Among the policies embraced by Ehrlich was the possible feasibility of placing “sterilants” in the water supply, and he advocated tax policies that discouraged childbearing.

Overall, Ehrlich’s dire predictions proved widely off the mark – food production has soared, population growth slowed and starvation declined – but his influence lives on. One of his closest acolytes, John Holdren, is President Obama’s top science adviser. Ehrlichian views would not be popular among the nonaffluent electorate, in contrast with more popular approaches that actually improved people’s lives, like cleaning up the air and water.

While Holdren may be too politic to embrace naked Malthusianism in the White House, many mainstream environmentalists continue to embrace strong steps to discourage people from having children. Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for the U.S.-based Nature Conservancy, concluded that not having children is the most effective way for an individual in the developed world to reduce carbon emissions. In the United Kingdom, Jonathon Porritt, an environmental adviser to Prince Charles, has claimed that having even two children is “irresponsible” and advocates that the island nation reduce its population in half in order, in large part, to combat climate change.

Downsizing humanity

In Callenbach’s “Ecotopia,” the domineering state followed somewhat social democratic lines and emphasized an egalitarian culture. This idea could even work, if California was limited to the wealthy counties around the San Francisco Bay and, perhaps, had millions fewer poor people – including many immigrants – than it does now.

An Ecotopian state seems best-suited to a country that has a relatively homogeneous, wealthy population, like Finland or Norway. Green movements flourish among those who already have a high level of materialism – nice cars, homes, secure retirements – and do not require broad-based economic growth to make their lives better. Their relative wealth allows them to focus primarily on the environment, even at the expense of other people.

But this is not the reality for most of California – or the United States – where income disparities have grown in recent decades, and society has become ever more diverse. This reality may make people less enthusiastic about embracing calls by greens to lower living standards, particularly in the high-income countries.

Adviser Holdren, for example, in the past has called for “dedevelopment,” or the conscious ratcheting down of economy growth. A similar school of thought has risen in a well-organized European political drive to promote “degrowth,” which seeks to limit fossil fuels, suburban development and replace the current capitalist system with a highly regulated economy that would make up for less wealth through redistribution.

Perhaps those most cruelly treated under the neo-Malthusian regime would be developing countries, whose per capita energy use is far lower, something the greens hope to keep that way. Prince Charles, for example, embraces the “intuitive grammar” of ultradense slums such as Mumbai’s Dharavi, which, he claims, have perfected more “durable ways of living” than those in the suburbanized West.

The influential environmental group Friends of the Earth applauds recycling in Dharavi as an “inspiration” for the urban future. California’s environmental pioneer Stewart Brand openly endorses efforts to “Save the Slums” because they will save the planet.

Retrieved October 20, 2015 from http://www.ocregister.com/articles/people-687876-environmental-change.html

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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