by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ruy Teixeira writes for the American Enterprise Institute that the environmental movement suffers from a focus on cataclysmic doom-and-gloom scenarios. Unrealistic arguments based on that focus have blunted the movement’s ability to build on its clear early policy wins.
[T]hese reform successes did not eliminate environmentalism’s apocalyptic strain, which saw industrial society as an imminent threat to human life and the planet. Instead, a closer relationship evolved between mainstream environmentalism and a radical view of industrial society’s fundamental dangers. This was first manifest through the anti–nuclear power movement in the 1970s and was turbocharged by the 1979 Three Mile Island incident. Then in the 1990s, as a scientific consensus emerged that greenhouse gases were steadily warming the earth, this movement was superseded by the climate movement. Here was clear proof that industrial society and human civilization were counterposed. Initially meliorist in orientation, the movement has become more radical as it has gathered strength. The quest to eliminate the possibility of dire scenarios has met the reality that industrial societies built on fossil fuels are likely to change only slowly, for political and technical reasons.
This has promoted a sense that radical action to transform industrial society must be taken immediately. That view has gained hegemony in the Democratic Party, supporting activist groups, and associated cultural elites. Practical objections about how quickly a “clean energy transition” can be pursued and concerns about how it will affect the economy are now outweighed for most Democrats by the mission’s perceived urgency. That has set Democrats apart from the working-class voters they aspire to represent, for whom these practical objections and concerns loom large. How to transition to clean energy has become a significant factor in the great divide that has opened between postindustrial metros and the rural areas, towns, and small cities of Middle America.