Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Latest Shellenberger Scheiss

Environmenral Politics


Population growth, lack of jobs, the increase in slums in much of the developing world along with poor agricultural practices worry many conservationists, but not all, Lorna Salzman writes: “What they are saying is that we need MORE of the same things that have already produced catastrophes. But why are they saying these things? The answer lies in who they are addressing. They are not addressing the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged, the homeless, the displaced farmers, the slum dwellers in Mumbai or future generations. In their infatuation with nuclear power for the slums of the world (which they seriously promote), they don’t say just how electricity is going to pick up their garbage or provide health care or build them new decent homes or grow their food. Nor do they address overpopulation, the ten-ton gorilla in the room that grows fatter each day.”
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by Lorna Salzman


In 2004 the infamous “Death of Environmentalism” by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger was presented to a group of environmental funders as the definitive obituary of the environmental movement. A few years later the authors issued a follow-up report, “Break Through,” the name of their institute, based in Oakland, California. Both were riddled with errors, misconceptions and an inexcusable ignorance of the movement they were writing about. Behind both reports lay little more than opinion polls and discussions with selected environmentalists. “Break Through itself was a work of fiction posing as authority.”

Now the diddling duo has come up with something different: a report that characterizes public attitudes towards the climate-change crisis fairly accurately and actually is brutally honest in some conclusions: climate science isn’t enough to change public opinion; the free market isn't working and won’t work; renewable energy and reduced consumption will be negligible influences on mitigating climate change. For most of the report, I found myself agreeing with much of their analysis and hoping that finally the not-so-dynamic duo might be suffering the sea change in perspective that might redeem their earlier fraudulent work....that is, until I got to the final act.

In fact I had to re-read their recommendations several times to make sure I understood what they were proposing. But let me backtrack a bit by reiterating, at the risk of being tiresome, what some of the major problems confronting humanity today are, and which are mentioned in their report. This is intended to prepare you.

Population growth. Presently over 6 billion people live on earth and this is expected to reach 9 billion before mid-century—a 50% increase. Virtually all of this increase is in Africa, Latin America, the middle east and India. Where are these people living and where will the additional 3 billion live? In fetid, squalid filthy overcrowded huts of scrap metal, plastic and wood remnants, with no sanitation, drinking water or utilities, on the outskirts of the major cities of the developing world: Mumbai, Caracas, San Paolo, Lima, you name it.

Why? Because there are no jobs and no land anywhere else for them. But they keep coming, begging on the street, selling pencils or oranges, stealing, bartering, sleeping on the curb. Have these cities devoted attention to these favelas? Have they committed themselves to building new housing, providing drinking water, sewage, electricity, health care? Not a bit. The slums expand and expand every day and nothing is being done to find alternatives. These mega-urbanization nightmares are all that their residents will ever know IN THEIR ENTIRE LIFETIME.

Soil. Desertification due to terrible agricultural practices that rely on chemicals instead of on rejuvenated and enriched crop land, plus severe droughts - now longer and more severe in drought-prone areas due to climate change - as well as the destruction of trees and standing vegetation for firewood and cash crops have caused huge losses in formerly productive soils. Such practices are rife because most crops are now raised by agribusiness, not small subsistence farmers who were willing to expend the necessary labor to keep soils healthy and productive. Additionally, heat waves, the disappearance of glacial melt, overpumping of finite aquifers and primitive wasteful irrigation practices are already creating shortages in basic food crops and higher prices for the poor. The food systems worldwide are in serious danger and famines will be the result; growing populations will create even more demand and thus more shortages and price increases.

Now let me fast-forward to their proposals:
Global development and urbanization are salutary trends for they bring with them the opportunity for billions of us to live longer, healthier and free lives....the green obsession with moralizing against profligate American lifestyles is entirely irrelevant to the future disposition of the global climate...more and more of the world will adopt the very living patterns that greens have so long valorized....as they do they will use vastly more energy and resources, not less".
Big is beautiful...The solution to the ecological challenges faced by a planet of 6 billion going on 9 billion will be more modernity, technology and progress. ....these solutions will be: large central station power technologies that can meet the energy needs of billions of people increasingly living in the dense mega-cities of the global south without emitting carbon dioxide, further intensification of industrial scale agriculture to meet the nutritional needs of a population that is not only growing but eating higher up the food chain, and a whole suite of new agricultural, desalinization and other technologies for gardening planet Earth...
And as the final fillup in this fantasy: “Human technology and ingenuity have repeatedly confounded Malthusian predictions yet green ideology continues to cast a suspect eye towards the very technologies that have allowed us to avoid resource and ecological catastrophes.”

Yes, you read correctly. They are denying the evidence all around us that we are ALREADY experiencing resource and ecological catastrophes. What they are saying is that we need MORE of the same things that have already produced catastrophes. But why are they saying these things? The answer lies in who they are addressing. They are not addressing the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged, the homeless, the displaced farmers, the slum dwellers in Mumbai or future generations. In their infatuation with nuclear power for the slums of the world (which they seriously promote), they don’t say just how electricity is going to pick up their garbage or provide health care or build them new decent homes or grow their food. Nor do they address overpopulation, the ten-ton gorilla in the room that grows fatter each day.

It reminds me of Gregg Easterbrook’s proposal of some years back where he said that the solution to poverty was to build giant hydropower dams in the developing world and then give everyone in Africa and elsewhere refrigerators so they wouldn’t have to keep patronizing local markets to sell or buy foodstuffs every day. And putting aside the physical and resource constraints and logistical problems, they do not touch on the costs or time frame for keeping up with the global population explosion. We can't even fund our own infrastructure rehabilitation in this country. The slum dwellers have lived in their huts for generations already with no respite or remedy in sight. Where is the money going to come from for the rest of the world? If we could re-house and re-locate every Mumbai slum dweller today, what will it take to keep up with population growth and the future influx into cities?

They are addressing the affluent, comfortable middle class in this country which, they claim, has been subject to a climate of fear over the hardship and sacrifice that, they are told, must accrue to them in order to fend off climate change. They are, in effect, defending capitalism and in particular the economic growth paradigm that rules this country and a few others, while pretending (in the face of incontrovertible evidence) that this level of affluence can be extended to the six or nine billion other people on the planet. With their magic wand of Wishful Thinking they are trying to abolish any notion of equity and redistribution. They are out to abolish Discomfort and Fear, which the environmentalists and scientists have spread so widely.

Lester Brown, in his latest book World on the Edge and others have already shattered these myths definitively and shown that the earth is in overshoot mode and that it would take three Earths and its land and resources to bring the less developed countries up to the American standard of living. The Break Through people have apparently panicked at the thought that Americans might have to sacrifice their standard of living. They have decided, on their own and in the face of contrary evidence, that the solution to climate change and other crises is to build and use MORE of the things that have brought us to this dire state, not less. They have decided that Good News, even when it lies, is what Americans want. It is nothing more than Snake Oil and in the end a poison pill for humanity.

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The author, a graduate of Cornell University, has been an environmental writer, lecturer and activist since the 1970s. Her articles on environment, energy, biodiversity and natural history have appeared in leading journals here and abroad, including The Ecologist, Index on Censorship, Resurgence, New Politics, and Business & Society Review. Her professional career began when David Brower, the leading conservationist of the 20th century in the USA, hired her as mid-Atlantic representative for Friends of the Earth, where she worked on wetlands, coastal zone and nuclear power issues for over a decade. In this period she was instrumental in the preservation of two key wildlife habitats (Swan Pond and Maple Swamp) in Suffolk County, NY.

Later she became an editor at the National Audubon Society's journal, 
American Birds, followed by directorship of the anti-food irradiation group, Food and Water. In the mid 1980s she co-founded the New York Greens, later the New York Green Party, on whose state committee she served for several years, and became active in the national green movement.

She worked for three years as a natural resource specialist in the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection, focusing on wetlands and coastal zone protection. In 2002 she was the Suffolk County Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st CD on eastern Long Island, and in 2004 she was a candidate for the U.S. Green Party's presidential nomination. Her hobbies are mushroom hunting, classical music and birding around the world with her composer-husband Eric. They have twin daughters, one a pop composer and lyricist in NYC and the other a poet and writer based in England. They live in Brooklyn Heights, NY, and East Quogue, NY, and have lived for extended periods in Italy and France.


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Copyright ©2013. Lorna Salzman. All Rights Reserved. It is published here with the author’s permission. More of her writing can be found at www.lornasalzman.com.

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