Worldwatch wants Al Gore to be your Daddy. As if the environmental movement, grown increasingly diffused across the political and social spectrum in recent years, all of a sudden needs such a figurehead.
The danger inherent in adopting a movement messiah, much less the face of carbon-fueled climate chaos itself, should be plain to us by now, locked as we are in a two-party system of eternally-increasing polarization.
I confess I missed Gore’s big climate speech last Thursday. I was likely twittering to myself down at the office. However, I fully love the fact that someone with his political stature would stand up and call for mass conversion of our energy allegiances — equally as much as I appreciate the fact he is keeping his distance from the current election cycle.
That same day Gore popped off, Texas made a sizable lurch into clean energy with a $5 billion commitment to trenching transmission lines into “competitive energy zones” in high wind and (naturally) sunny West Texas scapes. Our attractiveness to wind and solar companies on the make just got an ovulatory glow.
I even love the implausible deadline of 2018 Gore set to finalize our decoupling of petro resources in favor of non-polluting renewables. We need to move on war footing like that. We need that kick in the ass. But do we need Gore to lead us there?
Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin writes:
A groundswell of voices – from Wall Street investors to the urban poor, from evangelical Christians to indigenous leaders, from defenders of national security to activists for world peace – say climate change is a threat and a solution is urgent.
Yet, who will lead? The environmental movement has not had a central, unified message since its inception during the first Earth Day in 1970. Rather than sticking to the core ethos of its foundation, the movement has settled for incremental compromises – for example, attempting to control pollution rather than transform the underlying economic causes.
It’s true environmentalism has been all over the map since it crawled out of the hair-growing salons of the late ’60s. But it also grew up with an array of faces. Its thrust always an unmistakable goal of sustainability, the current buzzword for “survival.” Whether you are facing down shark finners off the Galapagos or teaching children how to compost their cafeteria waste, you are practicing environmentalism and you are participating in survival methodology.
Flavin argues that the past 40 years of “small steps” won’t work with climate change. That’s true. Which is one reason we saw a string of bloated and unworkable climate-slash-energy bills sputter, flutter, and flare out recently in Congress. The needs are great; the shared knowledge, not so.
“A successful mass movement must set its sights high and settle for nothing less than a new economy. Gore has done just that,” Flavin writes. Still, the suggestion seems to be that Gore is somehow now a mass movement. He isn’t. The mass movement — and environmentalism informing it — still belongs to the masses.
Riding the highway again today, as I will everyday until I finally relocate for work, I couldn’t shake the grip of gridlock think. I realized that until our minds train themselves to see a traffic jam and think in communal terms (how can I help solve this issue for us all?) rather than selfish terms (how can I rev, ram, and reach that exit lane first?), we will be idling without a clue on climate change.
It’s menace is complex, slow, aggravating, and planetary — for all practical purposes, universal.
Global warming is not speculative, but fact. Our current worldwide mass extinction is not a “conservation issue” in the same way global warming is not an “environmental” issue. It is the business front, the local front, and 1A. There is no other “side” to this story, just the quest for solutions.
The need to completely cross to renewables is plain, but it must ride the groundswell Flavin recognizes that exists today. That groundswell must be high enough to move us where we need to go. That will come when the information custodians (reporters, editors, publishers, and their financiers) change their operating paradigm on climate change, the same way they did on Civil Rights when lynchings, disenfranchisement, and abuse were finally (and widely) understood to be morally indefensible.
Sadly, just as few newspapers have had the courage to challenge the status quo on issues of war and peace, racial injustice, and women’s suffrage before the mainstream thinking on these topics shifted, we have, as one of my current reads lays out, guard dogs of the establishment rather than watchdogs. At this peak moment, we’re starting to roll backwards, back downhill.
While there is a place for exploration and reserve releases to smooth the transition, discussion of oil shales, worse even than liquified coal, just shows how far off we have careened so quickly. With gas prices taking our attention off proactive measures, the public’s interest is diving to drilling over conservation.
Amid record gas prices, public support for greater energy exploration is spiking. Compared with just a few months ago, many more Americans are giving higher priority to more energy exploration, rather than more conservation. An increasing proportion also says that developing new sources of energy – rather than protecting the environment – is the more important national priority
In four months the public washed from conservation matra to drilling. Still, the media are not unmasking the “Drill Here, Drill Now” bunch’s offerings as an extension to the status quo that will kill us sure as a raring horse will trample a snake in the grass.
It is not the lack of some unitary executive overseeing environmentalism that is killing us. It is for the fact that the increasingly defunct media haven’t passed beyond the decade’s stalling “he said-she said” manipulation by the global warming denial industry; adopted the science for what it is; and become infused with the moral implications of inaction.
Will Rogers once said that as a Democrat he belonged to “no organized political party.” Environmentalism is like that. It is not a Party or even a party plank. It is a key comprehension that our interests — our common fate — are intertwined.
Of course, Rogers also said “politics is applesauce.” I still don’t know what he meant by that. I suspect it has something to do with the mess that good and bad apples turn into in that great capitol-city grinder to the east. Could it be that the great Art of Compromise is nothing more than dissolution?
That’s the face of environmentalism. Or at least it should be. No badges; no king; just sweet mush.
[Image credits: First is a NYTimes illo. Woodstock movie still swiped from www.alvinlee.de/alvmems8.htm. Graphs are from University of Maine and the Pew Center, in that order.]