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.