Green Fading to Brown

Nobody has his finger in the wind more than GE’s embattled CEO Jeffrey Immelt (rightly embattled–have you followed their stuck stock price since he became CEO a decade ago?), so his recent mea culpa about GE overdoing the green messaging is worth noting:

“If I had one thing to do over again I would not have talked so much about green,” Immelt said at an event sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Even though I believe in global warming and I believe in the science … it just took on a connotation that was too elitist; it was too precious and it let opponents think that if you had a green initiative, you didn’t care about jobs. I’m a businessman. That’s all I care about, is jobs. . . I’m kind of over the stage of arguing for a comprehensive energy policy. I’m back to keeping my head down and working,” Immelt said.

This follows on the heels of Guardian columnist George Monbiot’s admission that the environmental movement ought to face up to the fact that they’re a bunch of losers, a column that Walter Russell Mead has rightly highlighted for being “a thoughtful and brutally clear expose of the intellectual bankruptcy of the green movement from one of the smartest people in it.” I wouldn’t have put it that nicely: Monbiot doesn’t just drink the green Kool Aid–he makes the stuff. (By the way, someone must have started spiking Mead’s Wheaties–the guy has been on fire for months now on everything.)
I noted here a few weeks about about the elitist tendency of environmentalists to presume to be speaking on behalf of the world’s downtrodden, supposedly the most threatened by global warming. Maybe they ought to take note of the findings of a recent Gallup poll on international attitudes on global warming, whose headline is “Fewer Americans, Europeans View Global Warming as a Threat.” But more interesting than that headline is the one finding buried down in the first table of the report. In response to the question, “How serious is a threat of global warming to you and your family?”, in “Developed Asia” (which would be Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, etc), 79 percent answered that they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about global warming–the highest number for any region of the globe. But the figure for “Developing Asia” (which would include nations such as China, India, and Indonesia), the number of people “very” or “somewhat” concerned about global warming was only 31 percent. (In China the number is only 21 percent.)
Are these people just stupid? Haven’t they read “the science”? Gallup also asked about respondents’ knowledge of the issue, and large majorities in most countries say they know “somewhat” or “a great deal” about the issue (65 percent of Chinese for example, 76 percent of Malaysians). Maybe folks understand their own self-interest lies in avoiding an energy-impoverished future. The point is, it is rich people who get to worry about global warming half a century from now. The key to environmental protection is understanding that the affluent society doesn’t want to be the effluent society. But you have to be affluent first. People in the developing world get this. Posh American and European environmentalists don’t, and never will (or maybe they do and silently prefer that the world’s poor people stay poor–occasionally they let the mask slip and say things like “China can’t be allowed to develop,” or that mass automobile ownership in India will be a disaster).
I think it was Steward Brand, a recovering environmentalist (he came out for more nuclear power several years ago), who first made note of the photograph below of Indonesian students studying outside beneath streetlamps because they had no electricity at home and the university library was full. If you ask these students about what they most need to secure their future, it won’t be expensive solar panels and windmills from American green power advocates.