The Green's House

A view on the environmental movement. This page is the copyright of Steve Green. Reprint by express permission only. Note: I am subscribed to the daily Grist Magazine E-Mail list, which I use to keep tabs on what the environmental movement is doing. Over the last couple of months it has gotten me to thinking about it. Hence this page.

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If you want "Green", provide more, not less

As an outside American observer, I think the environmental movement is doing it almost all wrong. But the situation can be rectified.

While I am not convinced that humans are completely responsible for the increase in global warming, the fact that the earth is warming is becoming more and more established. It may be part of a natural cycle of the earth; it may be a combination of that plus man-influenced factors. At this point my study of the science indicates that there isn't enough hard evidence to convince me that the entire "carbon dioxide" scenario is true. My reasons for saying this are complex, but suffice it to say that I think the current state of science in general is bound by a "peer review" straight jacket, and this makes truly independent and ground breaking discoveries (including - and maybe especially - in environmental science) far less likely to happen than at this point in the last century.

Many people forget what mankind has accomplished in those same 2 centuries that environmentalists decry as the "industrial age". We have moved the human race into formerly impossible realms advancement. The very influx of ideas on the Internet and even the computer you may be using to read these words are the product of our advances. Now we are facing a required advancement in the area of living with our planet. But in beginning this process we have to face some facts.

1. Free mobility is an cherished part of what makes America great.

America has always been dependant on transportation. The American psyche and American innovation are at least partially the product of the fact that our population has been and continues to be mobile, with independent means of transportation. The outward mobility matches and inspires the inward innovation. When presented with a problem, many world cultures will simply pound the problem to find the solution. An American is likely to innovate a solution around the problem, that is, use "mental mobility". To ask the American people to give up their mobility is to ask for a death sentence for our culture, which has led the world in innovation for over a century.

The environmental movement tends to give the public the impression that they would have all Americans live in apartments and take the subway or bus to work, then walk to the market and carry the groceries back. This might solve the global warming crisis; then again, so would eradicating all mankind from the globe. What we need are practical solutions. Freedom to move about is a part of our freedom of expression, and people don't want to give it up.

To provide the innovative new sources of energy, we need the mobility that fosters the innovative American mind. The environmental movement thus appears to be cutting it's own throat here; we need people to be more mobile and flexible in their thoughts, and we need them to have acceptable alternatives to conventional fossil fuel mobility. Those alternatives come from innovators, whose free thinking comes, at least in part, from their freedom of physical action and mobility. If the environmental movement successfully reduces the mobility, it begins the mental decline of the raw ingredients needed to provide future environmental solutions.

2. The American "frontier mentality" is in need of a new frontier.

The second thing that has influenced making America great is the new frontier mentality. This was generated by geography and the move westward in the 19th century. Then it was reinforced in facing the crisis of 3 world wars  (WWI, WWII, and the Cold War) in the 20th century. With the end of the cold war, there is a vacuum that is waiting for the next challenge. Without challenges, the American people tend to degrade into a morass of what I would call "multidirectionalism"; they are without a national purpose, and tend to be a bit disordered and unpredictable (especially from the view of the rest of the world). This has led nations to underestimate what the American people will do in their own defense, the latest example being Saddasm Hussein's miscalculation in the Gulf War in 1990, and the American response to the attacks of 09/11. Whatever one may think of the politics of the war on terror, the response was classically American: "Billions for defense, not one cent for tribute".

The American people could be focused on making our nation the most "green" in the world. For this to happen it has to be presented as a challenge, not a chore. Redefining the image of environmentalism is vital. Right now it is often considered extremist and "whacko". The movement has to find a mainstream where it can influence the progress of change.

The focus should be on the limited amount of fossil resources. Those dinosaurs must have been really prolific breeders to have left so much oil and natural gas. But however much the world has, it is a finite resource that will eventually run out. What the environmental movement should be trying to do is to accelerate the change from fossil to clean fuels. Accelerate, not mandate. If the environmental movement can re-frame their message into this context, then the concept becomes one of innovating to provide future generations with ever abundant energy. Right now the focus (in the common perception) is that the environmental movement wants to "take away" things from people. Americans think the green movement is trying to take away their freedom of movement and their cheap energy; third world countries think that the air pollution requirements are attempting to take away their chance of becoming 1st world nations, etc. If the perception within the environmental movement changes to what they want to add to the world (rather on what they want to prevent the world from doing), the difference would be enormous. In a single moment, the entire movement becomes perceived as helping mankind, rather than hindering daily life as we know it.

3. The Environmental movement needs to make peace with industry.

Companies will always respond when there is money to be made. Environmentalism has tended to see large corporations as the enemy, and attempts to pass laws to "make" them eco-friendly. While we certainly need laws to prevent pollution, what we really need is to find a way to make the companies see the "Green" in environmentalism as "Greenbacks", i.e. profits. Companies are in business to make money. If they can be convinced that there is more money to be made in converting to new energy supplies, they will switch. There needs to be a partnership, not conflict.

If you build a cheap and viable solution, people will come; people will respond to green products, IF THEY ARE READILY AVAILABLE and AFFORDABLE. Does any rational person think that if a car was offered with reasonable comfort, high safety, and 60 miles per gallon average MPG, it wouldn't be snapped up faster than the ice is melting at the North Pole? The relative success of the Toyota hybrids are demonstrating the truth of this statement, but in reality the hybrids themselves do not present a complete solution; they are an interim step. Hopefully someone will start making minivans and (gasp!) SUVs with high MPG; imagine the waiting time for those. Similarly, if people are offered the choice between polluting fossil fuel electricity and clean electricity AT A SIMILAR PRICE, they will take it. Consumers don't care if their toaster is driven by fossil fuels or solar energy; they want their toast. 

To get these clean vehicles and energy we need someone to design and build them. That "someone" is the very industry environmentalists tend to demonize as part of the problem. Until we can find ways to make industry part of the solution, the green movement is facing very daunting circumstances. What if corporate influence was for environmentalism, rather than fighting it? Consider the possibilities.

Summary: In short, there is enough pessimism in the world; there are certainly enough laws and taxes. What is needed in the environmental movement is "intelligent enthusiasm", with long term goals and milestones that are doable. Changing public perceptions by changing the environmental focus will produce concrete (or in this case green) results. The environmental movement should focus on providing more green energy, not trying to make people use less fossil energy. More green will equal less fossil; when people are using green energy, they are not using fossil energy. Focus on more, not less, and people will come to believe in and support environmentalism.

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