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Let Us Now Praise Enviro-Dissidents

Michael Shellenberger

What’s the opposite of the Green Weenie?  Not sure, but we we’re going to have to come up with one for the folks in the environmental camp who break with orthodoxy or think critically about the subject, risking the wrath of the environmental establishment in the process.  We’ve mentioned Keith Kloor here on Power Line before (“Definitely Not a Green Weenie”), and he’s got an important story about what I call “environmental dissidents” up right now on Slate.com, “The Great Schism in the Environmental Movement.”

I’ve been saying for years that conservative criticisms of environmentalism wouldn’t make much difference to the environmental movement, and that the environmental movement needs its own “Protestant Reformation,” and a Martin Luther-like moment or leaders who nail their 95 Theses of dissent on the Green Church door.  Kloor begins his account with what I thought was the beginning of an internal reformation of environmentalism from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, left-leaning authors of the infamous “death of environmentalism” thesis.  (I like Kloor’s characterization of their argument: “The environmental movement, they said in a provocative essay, had grown stale and ineffectual. It was beholden to a wooly-headed, tree-hugging worldview that was as dated as lava lamps, bellbottoms and Billy Jack.”)

Ted Nordhaus

In his current Slate essay, Kloor brings in a few new figures such as Emma Marris, author of a terrific recent book, The Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, that challenges many environmental orthodoxies about how we think about nature and ecosystems, especially the romantic and highly unscientific idea dear to many environmentalists that nature is unchanging in the absence of human disruption, and that, to the contrary, active human management of ecosystems is the cornerstone of environmental protection.  This means that our typical “balance of nature” policies are obsolete if not wrongheaded.  (Sample from Marris: “This faith that native ecosystems are better than changed ecosystems is so pervasive in fields like ecology that it has become an unquestioned assumption.  One often finds it built into experiments, which sometimes automatically classify any human change as ‘degradation.’”)  I got to meet Emma recently at a PERC conference; do read her book if you are interested in ecology.

Emma Marris

Kloor also highlights Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, as another important renegade within the environmental establishment.  In one recent essay, Kareiva and a co-author wrote that “ecologists and conservationists have grossly overstated the fragility of nature, frequently arguing that once an ecosystem is altered, it is gone forever.”

Here’s the heart and most interesting part of Kloor’s article:

Green traditionalists are well-represented among environmental scientists, and they publish high-profile papers warning ”that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth” to an irreversible tipping point. They issue reports from prestigious science societies warning about a finite planet being run into the ground. Some hold glitzy, international symposiums that put humanity on a mock trial for the global imprint of its civilization.

The common thread: The Anthropocene is an unmitigated disaster. Humans are planet wreckers. Time is running out for us. 

The modernist greens, by contrast, don’t catastrophize. They are even optimistic about the future. Some, like geographer Erle Ellis, point out that “the history of human civilization might be characterized as a history of transgressing natural limits and thriving.” He thus suggests that “we must not see the Anthropocene as a crisis, but as the beginning of a new geological epoch ripe with human-directed opportunity.”

The ice is breaking.  The traditional doomster green ideology is looking more like stale slime green every day.

UPDATE: I’ve got it.  The opposite of the Green Weenie will be the Green Hero Award; shortened, it becomes G-Hero, or shortened still, the “Gyro Award.”  Works since I like to make my own gyro meat for the rotisserie, like here:

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