Why We Can't Leave Saving the Planet to Environmentalists
Two of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment” reject the status quo of liberal politics and offer a bold vision for addressing climate change.
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus triggered a firestorm of controversy with their self-published essay “The Death of Environmentalism,” which argued that the existing model of environmentalism cannot adequately address global warming and that a new politics needs to take its place.
In this follow-up to their essay, the authors give an expansive and eloquent manifesto for political change. American values have changed dramatically since the environmental movement’s greatest victories in the 1960s. And while global warming presents exponentially greater challenges than any past pollution problem, environmentalists continue to employ the same tired and ineffective tactics.
Making the case for abandoning old categories (nature versus the market; left versus right), the authors articulate a new pragmatism that has already found champions in prominent figures such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Seeing a connection between the failures of environmentalism and the failures of the entire left-leaning political agenda, the authors point the way toward an aspirational politics that will resonate with modern American values and be capable of tackling our most pressing challenges.
“To win, Nordhaus and Shellenberger persuasively argue, environmentalists must stop congratulating themselves for their own willingness to confront inconvenient truths and must focus on building a politics of shared hope rather than relying on a politics of fear.” —The New York Times
Three years after their contentious, seminal essay, The Death of Environmentalism, advocated a radical reassessment of the global warming dilemma, career environmental activists Nordhaus and Shellenberger present the book version, which mines postmaterialist thought for solutions that fall somewhere between the death threats and Band-Aid solutions they say are currently masquerading as debate and progress. Arguing that preservation requires something qualitatively different from limiting our contamination of nature, Nordhaus and Shellenberger contend that, as Americans, we must collectively sacrifice our standard of living to reverse the inevitable, a seemingly impossible but necessary task in a nation plagued by affluence envy and credit card debt. Referencing a wide array of current political and environmental work, the authors show how current pop environmentalism (think Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth) is mired in a pollution paradigm... profoundly inadequate for understanding and dealing with global warming. True progress, they contend, requires embracing a pragmatic approach to the constantly changing world, rather than a stubborn belief that all things have an essential unchanging nature, which can be protected or restored. Though their plan to sell the largest middle class in history on a new vision of prosperity (defining wealth by overall well-being ) seems like a long shot, their big-picture ideas are important and intensely argued, making this a convincing, resonant and hopeful primer on postenvironmentalism.