Traditional environmental concerns have been trumped by a single, overriding problem: global climate change. Henry David Thoreau asked, "What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"
Environmentalists today face a similar question. Why fight for a local or even national cause when a global change could erase any victory? Preserving a beach ecosystem becomes meaningless if the coast is obliterated by a rising sea. Putting polar bears on the endangered species list is risible if the Arctic ice cap melts away to nothing each summer.
If you are a dyed-in-the-wool environmental activist, that funny feeling you have is the ground shifting beneath your feet.
When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes building two new dams in the Sierra, as he did in January, and argues that if California is going to have enough water, they are necessary to compensate for an expected reduction in the state's winter snowpack, how is a good green to respond...
Already, old-school environmentalists Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, and Stewart Brand, who created the Whole Earth Catalog, have embraced nuclear power as a lesser evil than climate change. Are environmentalists entering an era of wrenching hand-wringing as they choose among evils?
I hope not. Instead of triage, the right response is to accept the hard truth that the only thing that matters is controlling global warming and preventing catastrophic climate change — and then to fight like never before to do that. The dedicated, single-focus activists who make up so much of the environmental movement may, in the future, still be able to save the redwoods, or the Mexican gray wolf, or the whales — but only if we save ourselves first...
As I say, an interesting piece. The most significant effect of this might well be for nuclear power. Rendered 'radioactive' (so to speak) after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it becomes almost essential to our energy strategy if you accept that the generation of CO2 is slowly destroying our world. Those most worried about global climate change ought to be most receptive to the idea of revival of nuclear power. We've already seen presidential candidates talk about the potential return of nuclear power.
Further, Republicans who have complained for years about environmental extremism are seeing less attention to measures such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which were once the primary foci of the environmental debate.
And the new focus on global warming also differs from the old debate in that it is largely international and multilateral. The old discussions about water, air, and wildlife was susceptible of an 'environmentalism in one country' approach, while the climate change discussion is almost irrelevant if we are speaking of the United States only. It must be tackled by a host of nations. One can expect that under a Democratic President, the war on CO2 might take an equal footing with the war on terror. I'll be interested to see if the Democratic candidates (in particular) are required to give much attention to global climate change as a dimension of foreign policy.