The hazards of misanthropic environmentalism

In a magazine with the unlikely title What Is Enlightenment, I came across an excellent review of the politics of the Green movement in America. The article, A Brighter Shade of Green: Rebooting Environmentalism for the 21st Century by Ross Robertson, touches on some history and the current diversity of opinions among Greens. In the process, it gave some structure to things I’ve been puzzling over. Especially this: if it’s so easy to see that Greens are often right, why are they so damned annoying? The answer is that they hate people.

I’ll take a step back from my oversimplification and clarify. Among certain elements of the Green movement, which Robertson calls the “Dark Greens”, modern man is characterized as a disease. This is the monkey-wrenching Edward Abbey/John Muir axis of the group. It’s a seductive line of reasoning; the sins of mankind stain every corner of the globe. But you don’t have to follow the logic very far to see that the only possible solution consistent with this naturalistic world view is a horrific depopulation and a return to a primitive agrarian lifestyle among the privileged few that remain. It’s a grim prospect, unlikely to inspire anyone but the clear-eyed believers and those rich enough to afford their own guilt. The trouble is, of course, that any movement that marginalizes people must necessarily marginalize itself. Depression does not inspire.

In contrast to these Dark Greens are the so-called Bright Greens. Two exemplars of this view are Bruce Sterling and Stewart Brand. Stewart Brand is one of my heroes. Formerly of Ken Kesey’s Pranksters and the Whole Earth Review, this is a guy who could easily live in a nostalgic hippie daydream. But instead:

…as he gets older, he recently told the New York Times, he continues to become “more rational and less romantic. . . . I keep seeing the harm done by religious romanticism, the terrible conservatism of romanticism, the ingrained pessimism of romanticism. It builds in a certain immunity to the scientific frame of mind.

His investigations have led him to some surprising conclusions relative to typical Green rhetoric. For example: we need bigger cities and more nuclear power.

Regarding Dark Green guilt, I’ll close with an extended quote from Sterling:

It’s a question of tactics. Civil society does not respond at all well to moralistic scolding. There are small minority groups here and there who are perfectly aware that it is immoral to harm the lives of coming generations by massive consumption now: deep Greens, Amish, people practicing voluntary simplicity, Gandhian ashrams and so forth. These public-spirited voluntarists are not the problem. But they’re not the solution either, because most human beings won’t volunteer to live like they do. . . . However, contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks attractive, glamorous and seductive. The task at hand is therefore basically an act of social engineering. Society must become Green, and it must be a variety of Green that society will eagerly consume.

This makes abundant sense to me. Any fool can see that we are wrecking the planet, but we need to attack the problem with a positive attitude that has the potential to move millions. Sign me up! I’m ready to go Bright Green.

Read the whole article. It’s long but worthwhile.

4 thoughts on “The hazards of misanthropic environmentalism”

  1. … and that’s why “Living on Earth” is consistently the most depressing show on NPR. It’s your once-a-week tally of resource depletion, species extinction, and shortsighted decision making. Joy!

  2. The irony of it all is that the environment that the environmentalists are trying to save an environment that exists as the result of 100,000 years of humanity. If they really wanted to wipe the scourge of humanity of the face of the Earth, what better way than global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, and maybe a little radioactive waste?! This environment is essential to our survival, not life’s survival. Life on Earth has survived and prospered through mass extinctions (plural) that make our endeavors pale by comparison. It is the pinnacle of anthropocentrism (not misanthropy) to believe that humans hold such power over all of life. It reminds me of an old Dr. Who(TM) episode, where the heroes return to a lifeless Earth and comment on the complete lack of life, while standing in a field of heather with bugs buzzing around.

    I want to save the environment because it is the environment that is best suited to me and my descendents. Whatever happens in the future, there will be an environment and there will be a diverse biome; how much of it is habitable by humans is another question.

  3. That is an often overlooked point in all the doom and gloom: no matter how intolerable we make things for our own species, it is absolutely beyond our power to wipe out life on Earth. I find this comforting.

  4. It didn’t fit with the tone of my last post, but I was also going to point out that while humans have reduced the biodiversity of some species, we’ve certainly increase the diversity of others. Look at the hundreds of strains of mice and rats used for research, or the crazy looking birds and cats bred by fanciers. And dogs. I hear they can do amazing things with terriers these days!

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