Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Muscular" Green

It's not like we don't already have enough threads going here. Today, though, the NYT Magazine has got a long long article by Thomas Friedman. It's entitled

The Power of Green

and its basic theme is, "green" is coming fast as our new economic salvation.

Friedman is very articulate. Very knowledgeable. It's worth reading if you've got the time. And he's certainly making progress in understanding our quite desperate circumstances.

"But here’s the bad news: While green has hit Main Street — more Americans than ever now identify themselves as greens, or what I call “Geo-Greens” to differentiate their more muscular and strategic green ideology — green has not gone very far down Main Street. It certainly has not gone anywhere near the distance required to preserve our lifestyle. The dirty little secret is that we’re fooling ourselves. We in America talk like we’re already “the greenest generation,” as the business writer Dan Pink once called it. But here’s the really inconvenient truth: We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years."

Very very true, all of it.

He still has an underlying assumption, though, that should bring any biologist/ecologist (me) or truly knowledgeable greeny (you) to a dead halt.

He still thinks it's quite reasonable to seek to "preserve our lifestyle" - hence the "more muscular" new green ideology that's being so successful in the idea marketplace. That would be Schwarzenegger's version- where Hummers are still fine, as long as they're powered by bio or hydrogen fuels.

It's been quite painful getting mainstream thought to THIS point. All of the problems associated with climate change were OBVIOUS, and KNOWN- 20 years ago. They really were. I'll let out a little secret here; I've been a speaker at international global warming conferences. My first one was in 1988. If anyone had truly been listening to the climate modelers - all of it was there, up to and including wars for water, and environmental refugees.

I guarantee it's going to be painful getting public opinion even further. But we have to.

Here's the hard hard fact that the "muscular" greenies are still denying:


We've had a brutal proof of that in the last decade, with the world-wide collapse of ocean fisheries. For hundreds of years, politicians, and fishermen, have insisted that the oceans are simply too big for any human activities to ever make a dent in them.

And for a hundred years, at least, scientists have been warning that this is not so- keep harvesting cod at the present rate, and the population will collapse.

Guess what? The Atlantic cod population has mostly collapsed- the same fisheries where the first Europeans reported schools of cod so dense you could WALK on them- are gone. GONE. Closed. Few fish; and no fishermen.

When the scientists made these predictions- the economists, and fishermen, overruled them. "No, no, you can't take our lifestyle!! You're going to ruin the economics of our towns!"

We're in the process of doing exactly the same thing now with- our ATMOSPHERE. And the business types are making exactly the same mistake. "no, no, you can't take our Hummers away! That's defeatist!"

Arnold- Thomas- you desperately need to go look at the empty oceans. And the empty fishing villages. And the idle boats.

That's the way to kill an industry- and all the lifestyles that went with it.

Your "lifestyle" - is the equivalent of strip-mining.

You cannot have your Earth- and eat it too.

You CANNOT put an unlimited number of middle class Americans into a LIMITED CONTAINER. Earth.

That's PHYSICS, for crying out loud- not sociology, not biology. Physics. Do you believe in gravity?

Gravity doesn't CARE whether you believe in it or not. If you step off a cliff; you will fall. Every time. Hence the empty ocean.

If you are really looking at the numbers- you have to fairly quickly come to understand that the lifestyle of most middle class folks in the 1st world is NEVER going to be possible to maintain- and certainly not to expand. It's been nice, and fun- but it's insanely unrealistic.

The changes we're looking at, if we are to survive in the long run- are still much more extensive than people want to face.

This is why the efforts of people like No Impact Man- and all the rest in this little world of ours, are so very important. It will be hugely useful to have SOMEONE, just down the block, who is quietly living a non-strip-mining life.

Little by little- as people come to understand- it will make all the difference to have an example to follow.

More on this article later.


Crunchy Chicken said...

Slow down Greenpa! I can't catch up :) Your posts warrant more than a few minutes thought out comment.

Greenpa said...

Well. I do know what you mean. A close friend of mine wrote a fabulous book on philosophy of science- but it had this problem. You need about a week to digest each page. Kinda makes it hard going.

Seriously- are there others with this sentiment? Should I perhaps shift to posting every other day?

Lemme know.

Anonymous said...

Now you seem to be finally cranking up the volume to the point where the scientific observations you have been part of are also delivered with some emphasis that the trainwreck is just over the next hill. So let's hear about these changes we will have to adopt as soon as you can get around to that.
Clothes drying and water saving is fine so far, but I imagine that air travel may become restricted and I don't understand the biofuel from corn thing at all. Sugar, maybe, but corn is SO inefficient.
I see the near future as somewhat restricted in mobility in terms of commuting by car and plane and also reaching critical levels of water scarcity in many places on the planet not already affected. Lack of water is a problem I have personally faced for the last 16 years. On a personal level it's tough to deal with, but when one quickly faces the problems it engenders in the agricultural area, the unsettling reality sinks in.
If there isn't water there, you won't be living there.
Anyway, I want to hear what the cotidian experience will be like in the near future.
Maybe I should move sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

Just an aside, the site is very unco-operative, the word recognition has to be done twice, you can't get back to home from here, it's a very user unfriendly blog Which is a shame because your blog is among the most important out there. Again, no email?
And yes, write every day. Repeat repeat repeat if you need to.
I do enjoy reading the blog, but will soon stop commenting if the process isn't corrected.

Greenpa said...

RC- sorry to hear about the site problems- I'm a neophyte to this blog stuff. I'll seek some help. Anybody else having problems with the blog mechanics here?

Crunchy Chicken said...

Okay, I still haven't had the chance to read the article you cited, but I do think that the "underlying assumption" you mention just boils down to this: wishful thinking.

There are so many people who just can't give up their "goodies" that they have convinced themselves that their wasteful ways will be compensated by some futuristic scientific discovery that will magically fix all the problems. So, they can go on living without thinking about their own impact.

But, I'd rather they be at least trying to compensate with cleaner fuels (in the Hummers, etc.) rather than ignoring it all and belching out more nefarious fumes. Sure, it's not enough, but it's a start. Plant a seed of thought and let's hope it will grow.

Here's something that shocked me. The Seattle Times had a large feature today on Global Warming and are hosting a Climate Challenge.

Of the 3 people that posted comments, one refused to do anything towards curbing their carbon footprint until the "elite" step up to the plate. The other person doubted the whole science of global warming altogether. So, again I think getting some momentum going is the first challenge.

Ah, yes. The fisheries. I briefly mentioned a book I really enjoyed on my blog a while back that really opened my eyes to how bad the state our fisheries are in. It's a very depressing read, but highly educational. And, as you point out, one can extrapolate out to the impact on the atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

No problems with your blog on my end.

Agree on posts. Keep them up and be redundant as the mood hits. Themes emerge over time which have as much viability as individual statements. There's power in reiteration.

I agree on your thoughts on Friedman, but am somewhat moderated on your criticism about "preserving the current lifestyle." If I'm trying to get my parents to see the reality of this environmental catastrophe over the hill I can approach it two different ways:

1) I can hang a sign-board over my neck indicating the sky is falling and stand on the street-corner screaming it to them. They'll think I'm mad and tune me out. Or,

2) I can get them to acknowledge that there is a problem and that we have to change our approach to the issue in order to begin to understand how to solve it.

Telling them they can preserve their lifestyle initially makes the pill easier to swallow. Gets them on the right path. As they (we collectively) begin down that path and learn to live with these issues as fact rather than theory the facts will speak for themselves. Trying to beat people who cannot get there as easily as us over the head with a hammer will only smash some skulls.

So I agree, but am diplomatic and realistic about human nature. Friedman's voice is a good start. He's main street, and getting main street to start having a serious dialog is the first key step to big changes.

Anonymous said...

Seriously- are there others with this sentiment? Should I perhaps shift to posting every other day?

I find blogs run by a single person (as opposed to a group) tend to work best when the blogger limits himself to a regular schedule -- usually one post per day (although once a week, on a specific day, can work too).

Otherwise what happens is that you put up too much info all at once (when your energy and enthusiasm is high). Readers can't keep up, and conversation doesn't get a chance to build momentum. Then, inevitably, the blogger gets exhausted and needs a break (or new ideas). The blog languishes and readers disappear.

This pattern is so common and predictble it's become an endemic blogger disease. Look at dead blogs, and you see the same thing happen over and over again.

You can tell Blogger to hold your post to be published at a specific time -- that way you can write it when you're inspired, but force yourself to keep the supply more even, digestible, dependable and consistent. Readers come back more reliably because they know there'll be a new post every morning (or whatever your schedule is). They also comment more, because they know the post will be up there long enough for others to respond.

I also think posts work best when they are focused on one single topic. If a post wanders off-topic, you can break it into two posts (and save the second for the next day). There's no problem with longish posts per se, but they need to be focused (or the discussion will be incoherent and all over the place).

Those are just my thoughts on what helps me read and enjoy a blog. You've got a great subject and special perspective. The right structure will help the right readers to find a home here.

Anonymous said...

What about population control as well as decreased consumption?

Greenpa said...

Shelly - well, exactly. And is anyone talking about it? Nope. But we're going to have to. I've been trying to get it talked about for decades, literally.

Christy said...

I have the same problem of having to put the word verification in 3 or 4 times before the comment goes through. Since you have comment moderation on do you also need the word verification?

Beelar said...

Occasionally I have to enter the word verification once for preview and once for publishing (each comment), but usually it works doing just once per comment for me. I've got my browser set to accept cookies "only from those sites I navigate to", which means I'd be accepting cookies for this, so maybe if you don't it complains? I'm also logged in using my Google account for this, it's possibly more annoying if you're not signed in to begin with, or anonymous.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Yeah, I had to enter in the verification symbol a number of times as well even though I was logged in with my Blogger account. I just thought my eyesight was bad and I was entering it in wrong.

You can have content moderation without the verification, but it looks like Greenpa already took it off! Thanks!