Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Death of Environmentalism & the Politics of Possibility

As alluded to in an earlier post, the Republicans quite obviously have little offer in the way of constructive environmental policy, and with regards to the issue of AGW, at best perhaps they may promise a bit of tinkering around the margins with cap-and-trade programs, carbon taxation schemes and such (although don’t hold your breath for these to materialize as they would be deeply unpopular with the all-important suburban voters). Unfortunately, the Democrats aren’t really all that much better in this respect. Oh sure, they’ll undoubtedly pay some obligatory lip service to the issue of climate-change, perhaps announce some superficially pleasing “feel good” initiatives replete with "aspirational targets" and they’ll most certainly be less inclined to deliberately undermine and corrupt scientific research about the matter, but don’t expect hard-hitting policies of any real substance or naively imagine for a moment that things will likely change in any significant way even should they be elected later this year.

Maybe however what the political parties think right now about this or that particular measure to mediate or incrementally restrict CO2 emissions, doesn’t really matter, because they’re all just working with a hopelessly outmoded paradigm that needs to be scrapped altogether…

This provocative (although, fair warning – lengthy) discussion with authors Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger who wrote an inflammatory essay called “The Death of Environmentalism” back in 2004 and more recently the book “Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility,” advance the argument that the present conceptual and political model of “environmentalism” that’s “pollution-based” and focused largely on protecting and preserving nature from the activities of mankind is singularly incapable of dealing with the massive challenges presented by global climate change.

Instead of regulatory tinkering and punitive taxation, they call massive public investments of capital (about one trillion from North America and Europe) to develop and build infrastructures of the new technologies required to move beyond the fossil fuel based economy. It is, as they put it an “expansive” vision of innovation and economic growth as opposed to the quite unimaginative and “limiting” one that characterizes much of the present thinking coming from the environment movement. The goal, they suggest should not simply to be one of making “dirty technology” more expensive, but of making alternative, sustainable “clean technology” cheaper.