Surprise: Environmentalism Actually Boosts the Economy

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

One of the premises of EcoOptimism is that environmental actions and solutions complement the economy. Too often, the assumption – particularly within the business world and among conservatives – is that the opposite is true. They believe, sometimes fervently, that environmental rules and regulation are a drag on the economy, causing job losses and working against the interests of capitalism and growth.

But by almost all capitalist measures, environmentalism has proved to be an aid to the economy. I was struck by this with an assortment of posts all in one day. The first was a report stating the U.S. solar industry now employs close to 174,000 jobs and grew at a rate of 28% in the past year, nearly 20 times faster than the overall economy. Few sectors, including oil, can make a claim like that. In fact, 1.3% of the jobs created in the past year were in solar industries.

Source: SustainableBusiness.com. Their caption reads: “This year, the solar industry expects to add 35,000 jobs, bringing the total to 210,060, a 20.9% increase.”

Source: SustainableBusiness.com. Their caption reads: “This year, the solar industry expects to add 35,000 jobs, bringing the total to 210,060, a 20.9% increase.”

A related post compared this to the number of jobs created in fossil fuel industries last year. The oil and gas industry, including pipeline construction, added just 19,000 jobs, compared to solar’s 31,000. And according to the US Energy Information Administration, coal mining jobs fell by 11.3% in 2012, a year in which solar jobs grew by 13%.

Bear in mind that this is looking at only solar jobs and related growth, not the entire arena of renewables. Wind is another area of rapid growth compared to the rest of the economy. A new report from the advocacy group Oceana found that “offshore wind [in the Atlantic] would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.” As would be expected, pro-oil advocacy groups, who are promoting drilling for gas and oil off the East Coast, claim that that would create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in revenue for states. Oceana says, though, those numbers are inflated because they are based on drilling in sites that are not economically viable. (Especially as the price of oil falls as it has in recent weeks.)

offshore wind stats

Furthermore, according to Oceana, drilling could put other jobs and industries, including fishing and tourism, at risk. This could have a much great economic impact: a potential loss of 1.4 million jobs and over $95 billion in gross domestic product. Wind, on the other hand, poses little risk. (Bird kills, while a concern, are smaller offshore and, in any case, are far lower than the aviary impact of air pollution and global climate disruption.)

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

All this makes renewable energy, to put it in Republican terms, a “job creator.” If only the Republican Party weren’t beholden to fossil fuel interests, perhaps they would see that and would see that this is, in EcoOptimism terms, a win-win solution.

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Will 2015 bring legalization of hemp?

Hemp products. Images: screen grabs

Hemp products. Images: screenshots

There was a bit of excitement in the enviro blogworld last year, with posts boasting titles like “President Signs Farm Bill Legalizing Hemp” and “U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Legalize Industrial Hemp.” The legislation, some say, is a byproduct of the legalization of marijuana in some states, even though the two are vastly different with the main difference being that you can’t get high from hemp.

The Farm Bill legislation’s potential impact was overstated. It allowed growth only for research purposes by states and colleges, and even that turned out to be thwarted by the DEA.

The reason the federal government made hemp growth illegal is the subject of several theories. The most often cited is that the DEA can’t see the difference between the two when they are looking for marijuana farms. A more conspiratorial theory holds that the cotton industry, fearing competition, was behind the ban.

Last year brought attempts to finally legalize the potentially lucrative crop. Alas, the hoopla is not quite warranted.

I’ve written before about the fantastic qualities of hemp and how unfortunate – make that ridiculous – that it is illegal to grow in the US. In that 2012 post, I noted a bill that would rectify the situation. The bill was even co-sponsored by a Republican. That legislation failed. 2014 brought similar attempts to legalize a situation that has already been legalized in many states despite the federal ban.

Unfortunately, a Republican controlled Congress is even less likely to pass legislation in 2015. This despite the fact that hemp farming is seen by many as a job creator – which should make it a Republican darling — and, by the libertarian branch of the party, the ban is regarded as unnecessary government regulation.

Image source: relegalize.info

Image source: relegalize.info

As I noted in the previous post regarding hemp, it is incredibly versatile. Until 1619, farmers in Virginia were required to grow it. During WWII, its growth was temporarily legalized because of the military need for products made from it, including rope and parachutes. The federal government promoted a “Hemp for Victory” program.

Currently it is legal to make products in the US utilizing hemp, but illegal to grow the raw material. Much of it instead is imported from Canada, where growing it is allowed.

This blog is about synergistic environmental and economic solutions. In addition to hemp’s value to both farmers and the economy, it is a hardy crop, light in water and nutrient and fertilizer requirements. That qualifies hemp legalization as a perfect EcoOptimism win-win-win topic.

But despite the WWII precedent, despite the increasing understanding that hemp is not marijuana, and despite the combined economic and environmental logic behind legalization, 2015 is unlikely to see positive movement on federal legislation. For that, we’ll probably have to wait until at least 2017 and a new Congress, hopefully with an enlightened President. Not a very EcoOptimistic conclusion, but still there’s hope.

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2014 Word of the Year

Silos, but not the type we mean. Image source: Wikipedia.

Silos, but not the type we mean. Image source: Wikipedia.

If two years constitutes a tradition, then I guess EcoOptimism’s Word of the Year is now a tradition.

Two years ago, I chose resilience. At that point, pre-Sandy, its meaning in an environmental context was not well known. Now, it seems, it’s used everywhere. 2013’s word was transparency. Again, its general usage was understood, but I was referring to the availability of environmental and health information of chemicals, products and materials. In fact, the previous post to this one talked about, among other things, the issue that the impacts of many chemicals and process – the post was about fracking – are still not known and, if they become known, the information is not made transparent enough.

For 2014, EcoOptimism’s Word of the Year is silos. Once again, it’s a word that is understood in its traditional meaning, i.e. a container, usually but not always cylindrical and tall, to hold grain or other materials. It can also refer to an underground container that holds missiles before they are launched.

What we are interested in here is its newer usage as a container for information or groups of people. In our highly technical world, knowledge tends to be segregated into topics and people tend to be separated into professions. That’s a problem for a topic like sustainability which often requires multidisciplinary approaches to complex (or “wicked”) problems.

(In fact, wicked problems was a runner up for this year’s word. Perhaps I’ll reserve it for 2015. Phew, I won’t have to sweat coming up with something next December.)

Ecological problems are nothing if not complex. Think about the extraordinary computing ability it takes to create climate forecasts. But behind the unfathomable amount of bytes of information required is human-generated information, taken from many fields. The fields of course include climatology, but also delve into chemistry, biology, physics and even “soft” sciences like sociology and population growth. That means scientists, engineers and others have to emerge out of their professional silos to exchange information and, sometimes, to work together. The same is true for that 2012 word, resilience. It involves (again) climatology but also meteorology, geography, civil engineering, architecture, urban planning, emergency management, etc. The information and the people have to be networked in order to come up with plans and solutions that might actually work.

Working alone, any of those professions will likely come to conclusions that don’t take into account all the factors, resulting in unintended side effects. A civil engineer proposal to build flood gates may not realize that it causes other areas to flood. A design for a building might not raise critical machinery above flood levels. (That’s what happened during Superstorm Sandy at both the Con Ed plant that exploded and NYU-Langone Hospital.)

What’s instead required comes in the form of an unwieldy word: desiloization. (It’s probably not even a word; spellcheck hasn’t the faintest what to do with it.) More simply, we refer to breaking down silos. It’s the way we get to EcoOptimism-style win-win-win approaches. So what we actually need is the opposite of our Word of the Year. But there’s no way I was going to choose desiloization.

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Fracking and the Precautionary Principle at Work

Image: Inhabitat

Image: Inhabitat

I’ve written about the Precautionary Principle before (here and here), but because it’s a rare occasion when it gets applied in this country, it’s worth noting when it does find its way into policy.

The Precautionary Principle basically says that things should be proven safe before they are allowed. That’s generally the rule in Europe, but here in the U.S., chemicals and products and such are given the benefit of the doubt in an innocent-until-proven-guilty approach. Since there isn’t money to test every chemical, and there’s no incentive for companies to do so themselves, the safety of the vast majority of them is unknown.

So in the case of fracking, where there’s significant concern and doubt about its safety, the onus has been on the government to prove its dangers.

Happily, New York State has just gone the other direction and banned fracking precisely because we don’t know its impacts on air and water. Governor Cuomo’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, determined that fracking could pose dangers to public health. Zucker is quoted in the New York Times as saying “We cannot afford to make a mistake. The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”

This bears repeating because it is a significant policy approach: The potential risks are too great. Zucker went on to say that there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the long-term safety of fracking.

That’s the Precautionary Principle at work; public safety first, business interests second. A war on business, I’m sure the political right will claim. Anti-jobs and all that. But what use is a job when you or your family are made sick? The New York Times article said Cuomo was apparently convinced when he asked Drucker if he would want to live in a community that allowed fracking and his answer was no.

And applications of the Precautionary Principle yesterday were not limited to Cuomo, but included President Obama, who banned future oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay (though he didn’t ban mining there). At stake was a huge salmon fishery that supplies the country with 40% of our wild-caught seafood. Obama said energy development in the region could endanger an environmentally sensitive waterway and imperil vital fisheries. [Emphasis added]

Some may say it was a financial decision to save a $2.5 billion dollar industry but, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the energy reserves there vastly outweigh the fish, totaling $7.7 billion.

For a change, the oil industry lobbying interests didn’t prevail. Let’s hope the Precautionary Principle is applied to mining there as well. And, oh yeah, let’s also apply it to the Keystone XL pipeline.

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More Wrongest Product Nominees from Skymall

cat pod

A recent flight home from New Orleans where we attended Greenbuild provided another excuse to plunder Skymall for Wrongest Product Nominations. The winner by unanimous acclamation (that is, my wife and me) was the “Serenity Cat Pod.”

The primary photo on the page was for the people version: The “Serenity Pod Bed.” Looking like something from a low-budget SciFi film, the description boasted “you’ll float away … into a blissful state with calming color changing light, relaxing music and soothing vibration.” (Sort of like our flight. Not.)

Almost the nominee

Almost the nominee

While this alone could qualify as a Wrongest Product, the dog and especially the cat versions take it to another level of wrong. We could, I suppose, be convinced that the cat would appreciate the circadian rhythm benefits of the color changing LEDs, but what really got us about the $1000 pet toy was the question of how the cat would get in and out of it. The trauma of being stuck inside is sure to necessitate years of pet therapy.

Skymall abounds with pet product potential nominees including the heated cat house and the dog umbrella.

Skymall abounds with pet product potential nominees including the heated cat house and the dog umbrella.

The Wrongest Product Awards will go to those products (and their designers) that embody the least amount of redeeming value while incurring the use of unnecessary, often gratuitous, materials or energy.

How is this relevant to EcoOptimism, you might ask? Easy – it shows how extraneous so many products are, often in a “what-were-they-thinking” sense.

Nominations are open. Send yours to ImNotBuyinIt (at) EcoOptimism.com.

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Are Geoengineering Proposals EcoOptimistic?

 

Image source: climatecentral.org

Image source: climatecentral.org

They’re very seductive – proposed solutions to climate disruption that don’t involve carbon fees or changing our modern comforts and habits. Geoengineering – altering the planet instead of altering people’s lives – includes ideas such as creating giant algae blooms in the oceans to remove carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and seeding the atmosphere with sulfur to reflect sunlight. Some proposals even suggest putting mirrors in space. The New York Times just wrote about a more earthbound proposal to use a mineral called olivine to absorb CO2.

At first blush, these might seem like EcoOptimistic approaches: they would supposedly solve the issue of global warming while not harming the economy. (Note that EcoOptimism holds that we can improve the economy while improving the environment.) However, there are some faults with this line of thinking.

Geoengineering comes in two forms: carbon absorption and solar radiation management. Sulfur seeding and mirrors are the latter while olivine and algae blooms are the former. But so is tree planting, so the line between geoengineering and mitigation can be fuzzy.

Tree planting aside, geoengineering is, at its core, incredibly hubristic. It says that we can take the environment that we’ve defiled and fix it by altering the delicate balance of natural systems. The risks are obvious; we don’t know how much sulfur or algae or mirrors or whatever would be needed and miscalculations could be disastrous. The idea goes completely against the precautionary principle, which says “an action should not be taken if the consequences are uncertain and potentially dangerous.” Even if we did know amounts, we couldn’t accurately predict either the side effects or local climate impacts. Which leads, of course, to geopolitical questions.

Large scale geoengineering also builds upon the idea that technology will always come to our rescue. This, too, is problematic as it gives us cover to simply continue business as usual and not deal with the core problems.

From what is perhaps an EcoPessimistic point of view, the best rationalization for geoengineering research is that we’d have a worst case, last resort plan. If we pass that notorious 2o centigrade rise, if we hit runaway global warming, we would have emergency actions available.

But does the pursuit of geoengineering distract from or negate the need for mitigation and adaptation? The Times article tackles this question and makes some interesting points. First, it seems unlikely that the U.S., given the number of politicians who don’t even believe climate change is happening, will support geoengineering. Second — and a more subtle point – as the riskiness of geoengineering becomes more apparent, that may actually increase interest in less drastic paths. “If people realize that the dangers of climate change are such that geoengineering is being considered, they may work harder to avoid the need for it.”

That would be a happy, if indirect, result: geoengineering research as a means to a different end. It just seems unfortunate that we’d need to waste money and attention on geoengineering in order to get where we should be going in the first place.

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The Elusive Silver Bullet

silverbullet

I just returned from Greenbuild, the annual conference and expo for architect, engineers, planners, builders and others involved in the green construction sector. The event, which has grown hugely in size (the opening plenary and dinner were held in the New Orleans Superdome!), was simultaneously over and underwhelming.

I went in part to cover it for the magazine Traditional Home, which has covered my work before. My job was to live tweet the things I found at Greenbuild that might be of interest to Traditional Home readers.

That turned out to be a bit of a challenge as many of the booths were displaying products that, while they were part and parcel of green building, were not photogenic or attention grabbing in obvious ways. (At the best of show announcement, I sat next to an editor, who groaned about the unsexiness of most of the winners, complaining they were making his job harder because they weren’t easy to write about.)

A window, even a triple paned one, doesn’t make for a sexy photo. Photo: David Bergman

A window, even a triple paned one, doesn’t make for a sexy photo. Photo: David Bergman

I did find plenty to tweet about (like this and this), but the experience reminded me that much of sustainability is not photogenic or headline grabbing. Wind and solar farms can be eye candy, as can futuristic concept buildings and cars. We tend, therefore to glom onto these images and adopt them as the goal, as the silver bullets that will solve our environmental problems.

But they’re not. Not because they aren’t good ideas, but because they are attempts at stand-alone solutions. There are, with the possible exception of a carbon fee, no silver bullet solutions. Our environmental issues are systemic ones and therefore need to be addressed systemically. That’s why a carbon tax is high on the EcoOptimism list. It addresses the systemic conjoined problems of climate disruption and consumption, not with a single “solution” such as solar panels, but by changing the game. By levelling the playing field of energy prices so that carbon emitters no longer get a free ride, it both makes “alternative” renewable energy sources the better economic choice and impacts our consumption patterns.

For instance, travel would probably become more expensive (at least until reliance on fossil fuels diminished) so maybe we’d stick closer to home, spending our money in local economies, having business meetings by Skype and having more time for family and friends. Not a bad tradeoff.

McMansions would become more expensive to heat and cool, encouraging the nascent movement toward smaller, more efficient and more urban homes. Out with two-story foyers and vestigial grand living rooms. In with homes that are better attuned to the ways we actually live. (I can hear the Agenda 21ers screaming now.)

But a carbon tax is not really what I wanted to write about. This post is about the false hope of – the desire for – a silver bullet. Much as I dislike extending the gun metaphor, the better approach is like buckshot. It’s deploying many tactics (yikes, more military terms), including the aforementioned solar and wind farms or the boring mechanical systems that dominated Greenbuild. It’s many tactics that, when taken as a greater whole, comprise a systemic approach: a change in overall strategies and mindsets.

That’s what it will take to solve this multipronged combination of serious problems. No one technical feat or government regulation—excepting perhaps carbon fees — is going to address climate disruption, ecosystem health, human health, social equity and the economy. They’re solvable; as the EcoOptimist, I’d better believe so. But they need to be addressed as intertwined issues, attacked on multiple fronts. (I just can’t seem get away from these military metaphors.)

In that sense, Greenbuild, as visually dull as parts of it may have been, is on the right track by putting lots of mini solutions out there. On occasion they get tied together, as happened with the demonstration house built for the show. Designed and constructed for the Make it Right foundation, the house pulled together ideas ranging from solar panels and state of the art insulation to locally procured furnishings. And the finished “LivingHome” will be dismantled and then reassembled in New Orlean’s Ninth Ward before being turned over to new inhabitants. (Parsons the New School for Design, where I teach, did something similar with its “Empowerhouse” entry in the Solar Decathlon.)

The LivingHome was more photogenic. Photo: David Bergman

The LivingHome was more photogenic. Photo: David Bergman

These aren’t exactly systemic solutions. A single house can’t be. But they’re steps along the path to rethinking and reanalyzing approaches to problems. Now if we can just please have a carbon fee, the stage will be set for some truly systemic answers.

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Will the Solutions Come from Cities?

NYC view

Image: Wikimedia

It wasn’t terribly surprising that the recent UN Climate Summit didn’t yield anything substantive, much less binding. After all, twenty years of world conferences and summits haven’t achieved much. Meanwhile, we’ve been dithering away the time while greenhouse gas levels have been rising, making it harder and harder to avoid horrific impacts.

So where’s the EcoOptimism?

Turns out it’s not with national governments at all, and that’s reason for hope. (Especially given the dysfunctional US federal government, hobbled by a Congress filled with the willfully illiterate.) In its stead, lower level officials, notably mayors, have been leading from the bottom up, changing mundane things like building codes and transportation programs.

Mayors lead cities, and cities are where a majority of us 7 billion humans live. Urban environments, according to Edward Mazria, whose talk I wrote about in the previous post, emit 75% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. So focusing on cities makes a lot of sense.

The good news is that urban populations in the U.S. tend to be more politically progressive, voting heavily Democratic and not home to many climate change deniers. Thus mayors have political support for positive actions. Plus, as Grist points out, they’re “not beholden to rural, fossil-fuel dependent constituencies.”

The latest evidence for this alternative to pin our hopes on is NYC Mayor De Blasio’s announcement, timed to coincide with the summit, of new goals for energy efficiency of buildings in the city, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels.

GHGs OLTPS

In my previous post, I wrote about the pivotal role architects have in achieving energy efficiency and GHG reductions. That dovetails nicely with this urban direction, especially in cases like NYC where so much of the environmental impact comes from buildings. (Because more people use mass transit and fewer people drive cars, the transportation impact in dense cities tends to be lower.)

These bottom up initiatives have the potential create a trickle up effect to the national level. As cities embark on these programs – and presuming they are successful – they may provide the precedents as well as the political cover for Congress to come around.

So we shouldn’t give up on the Feds. While action from them is extremely unlikely currently, urban programs that are both ecologically and economically successful will disprove the allegations of the climate denier lobby.

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EcoOptimism in Climate Week

photo: David Bergman/EcoOptimism

photo: David Bergman/EcoOptimism

The UN Climate Summit had its ups and downs (China being one the downers) but some of the accompanying events left me feeling more optimistic. First, of course, was the People’s Climate March, the largest environmental protest in history. I began the march with a contingent from The New School (where I teach), but when we finally began marching (lined up on 72nd Street, it was two hours before we began walking on Central Park West) I found myself just ahead of the area that included architects walking under the banner “We Have the Solutions.”

That slogan – a fact, really – was reinforced at a talk at the Center for Architecture early Thursday morning. The speaker was Edward Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030. Mazria has been in the ecodesign world longer than almost anyone around. In my book, Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide, I called him “a green architect before such a term existed.” (He’d probably hate that description.) He came to prominence when, in 2003, he crunched some energy numbers and determined that buildings – and hence architects – were responsible for a much larger percentage of total energy consumption than anyone realized.

The numbers were published in Metropolis magazine. Susan Szenasy, who moderated Thursday’s talk and is the editor and publisher of Metropolis, said she initially took a lot of flak for placing the blame on architects. But as Mazria pointed out – at one point with a slide that just read “opportunity” in huge type – it also meant architects, along with building owners and others, have the ability to have a huge impact.

photo: David Bergman/EcoOptimism

photo: David Bergman/EcoOptimism

Building design and construction fall into two categories: new construction and renovation. And it’s the latter that holds some of the greatest potential because there is so much existing building stock relative to new buildings, and most of it is in need of energy upgrades. Remaking 2% – 3% of building stock per year using best practices would put us on the necessary path toward a net-zero energy goal. As this is close to the current rate of renovation, the idea, Mazria said, is “eminently doable.”

In a previous post, I wrote that architects – as polymath optimists – are uniquely suited to helping devise and advocate for the solutions we need. (Or, as the banner at the People’s Climate March observed, the solutions we already have.) The take away from Mazria’s exuberant talk was that architects have a pivotal role in determining our future. Indeed, the event was titled, only slightly hyperbolically, “Design! Life Depends on Us.”

Mazria observed that architects and planners have done this before when modernism, for all its faults in hindsight, helped bring cities out of the grime of their unhealthy 19th century state. It’s a profoundly EcoOptimistic point that architects can be one of the major forces in achieving the necessary goal of eliminating our production of greenhouse gases.

 

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Is There a Dystopia in Your Future?

A Sci-Fi, Cli-Fi dystopia

A Sci-Fi, Cli-Fi* dystopia

I love a good dystopia. Now that may seem odd for a self-styled EcoOptimist, but we’re all entitled to some form of escapism. (So long as it doesn’t include zombies. You have to draw the line somewhere.)

I prefer my dystopias to be fictional, though. Like most of us, I enjoy my creature comforts: the Internet, indoor plumbing and air conditioning, off-season foods. Even the occasional cross-country flight, as uncomfortable and eco-guilt ridden as it may be. I have no desire to travel on horseback, read by candlelight (tried that during Sandy) or slaughter animals myself for food. No Luddite I.

That doesn’t, however, mean I place all hope in technology. That’s an equally unrealistic notion. Yes, there may be tech solutions that solve problems like anthropogenic warming or nuclear waste. Indeed we have the strong beginnings of some of those solutions now in the form of reliable renewable energy. Our rampart materialism is showing some signs of abatement as, ironically, the tech industries mature and as we begin to realize that bigger cars and homes do not make us happier. And the green — as in agricultural — revolution may yet find a way to feed 9 billion people in the long term without devastating the soil and water it depends on.

I’m not ready to rule out engaging those technological possibilities – vehicles and appliances that consume less energy and less material, lifestyles that are lower in carbon but higher in happiness — in favor of the opposite path: extreme population reduction and technological reversal to the pre-digital (or perhaps the pre-steam engine) age. There’s a utopia somewhere between dystopia and the singularity.

That’s why I reacted with disappointment to the recent New York Times article “It’s the End of the World as We Know It . . . and He Feels Fine.” The article is a profile of 41 year old Englishman, Paul Kingsnorth, who has engaged in “Uncivilization,” what sounds like a cross between Burning Man and survivalism with a bit of 60s commune living thrown in.

At core, Kingsnorth does not believe our current civilization either can survive or is worthy of survival. My weighted hope in technology is, for him, a lie. “What all [the environmental] movements are doing, is selling people a false premise. They’re saying, ‘If we take these actions, we will be able to achieve this goal.’ And if you can’t, and you know that, then you’re lying to people.”

And in his view, it goes beyond being a lie. It is a fundamentally wrong view of our relationship with the rest of the planet:

For Kingsnorth, the notion that technology will stave off the most catastrophic effects of global warming is not just wrong, it’s repellent — a distortion of the proper relationship between humans and the natural world and evidence that in the throes of crisis, many environmentalists have abandoned the principle that “nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond the instrumental.” If we lose sight of that ideal in the name of saving civilization, he argues, if we allow ourselves to erect wind farms on every mountain and solar arrays in every desert, we will be accepting a Faustian bargain.

This is a rehash of the environmental schism that began in the early twentieth century between conservationists and preservations. Conservations like Gifford Pinchot debated preservations like John Muir in advocating for “wise use” of resources, their instrumental use, versus recognition of the intrinsic value of nature. This played out in the political battle for the Hetch Hetchy valley in California: would a beautiful view be preserved or would a dam be built to secure San Francisco’s water supply? Pinchot’s argument won out and Teddy Roosevelt, one of our most environmentalist presidents, OK’d the dam.

My first argument with Kinsgnorth’s approach is that it is unrealistic – short of a future he foresees as inevitable, the human population is simply not going to willingly turn back the clock. But I also find his back-to-the earth philosophy uninspiring and, for many or most of us, unenticing. The New York Times, by profiling him and his movement, continues a stereotype which casts environmentalism in a dispiriting hopelessness that brings out the most unpopular aspects of treehuggerism.

I don’t believe our environmental crises should be sugar coated, but I also don’t believe it is effective – and the last fifty years of the “green” movement have proved this – to tell people they have been hedonistic and abusive players in the Earth’s sandbox.

The difference between Kingsnorth’s approach and others’ like mine is, I think, hope. In the Times article, he is quoted as distinguishing “between a ‘problem,’ which can be solved, and a ‘predicament,’ which must be endured.” The writer continues “Uncivilization” [Kingsnorth’s manifesto] was firm in its conviction that climate change and other ecological crises are predicaments, and it called for a cadre of like-minded writers to “challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality and the myth of separation from ‘nature.’ ”

I have no disagreement with changing our selfish and irrational belief in human centrality (a belief which ironically arises from our rationality) and dismantling our philosophical separation from nature. These advances in our self-image are fundamental to understanding our roles in the Earth’s ecosystems. But EcoOptimism is not ready to give up on progress and solutions. We’re not going to just expect them to fall into our laps, as some technology believers do, and we’re not going to blindly accept technological “advances” as good things. But it is imperative that hope be a central part of our environmental actions and aspirations, and portrayals like the Times’ of the environmental movement as survivalists who advocate drastic sacrifices are not going to help us gain mainstream hearts and minds.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll spend the evening watching DVR’d episodes of dystopic shows on SyFy.

(*Psst, have you heard? The next new genre is “Cli-Fi”: shows, books and movies about climate disasters. I may have to get a bigger DVR.)

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