Friday, April 13, 2007

Tipping Point (continued)

Hear's a useful and much needed back and forth debate... Feel free to weigh in!

matt williams said...

I would agree with you Tom, if only I thought scientific evidence was enough to sway the American public. Recent PEW polls though have shown that only about 45% of Americans believe global warming is caused by human created fossil fuel emissions. For the sake of reference, belief in another point of scientific consensus, evolution, lies at 33%. So maybe environmentalism is well on its way. Maybe. But I think these numbers may also illustrate that scientific consensus alone will not necessarily bring home the win. 
What Arnold proposed is not a solution, at least not in my opinion, but I nonetheless support it. For one, even though global warming is now considered fact, it is still a very abstract concept with few noticeable implications for the average American over the short to medium run. Second, global warming will likely effect Africa and the rest of the third world first, places Americans care notoriously little about. Third, in the short run global warming may actually be beneficial to America and other developed nations (say many scientists). So I do think we need to make the case. We do need to sell environmentalism. We have the tools to do it, and I think we will win, but we're not there yet. Arnold's plan may not be the answer to global warming and other environmental problems, but it might just get us where we need to be, as a nation, to solve some of those problems.
April 13, 2007 12:53 AM

Tree Huggin' Hippies!

tom morgan said...

Ah, ever the pragmatist. Matt, I thought college students were supposed to be radical! You may be right... I left the parenthetical remark in there. And, no, I don't think that science will sway popular opinion as much as it certainly should. 

On the other hand, my critique is really two pronged: 1) directed at a governor who has become one of the symbols for environmentalism; and 2) environmentalists themselves, who in their quest to become popular are willing to throw out a whole segment of the population, that for years has worked for the benefit of the environment. 

In the Govenator's case, I get what he's saying. My take on it is this: for years conservative critics have LABELED environmentalists as weak, policy-wonkish Romantics who do not inspire the type of rugged individualism and entrepreneurial attitude that American ideals were founded on. Ever since circa 1973, when the Clean Air and Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were passed, free market, big business politicians have been working tirelessly to skin and gut them. In the process, conservatives, using their propaganda machines, have successfully labeled liberals as weak in an attempt to get the political upper hand. I see these comments in context of these larger culture wars.

Also, I see the Govenator's remarks as offensive, as a type of kick-the-dog-when-you've-had-a-bad-day kind of move. Tell me, exactly where are these hippies? Where are these tree huggers?? Is the governor really talking to these people?? No. I doubt it. The only real hippies left are those in small enclaves in places like Brattleboro and Bonny Doon and Nederland and Nevada City, or in college towns like Burlington and Arcata. Since the death of Jerry Garcia and the birth of Starbucks, more mainstream hippies have been subsumed by the larger yoga or organic or alternative medicine cultures. Mostly, even at Proctor, hippies are disparaged as being simple-minded, spaced out, hedonists who smoke pot and veg out on jam bands. They are viewed as a kind of sad, homeless relic left out in the rain after the Grateful Dead has pulled out of town without a dime in their pockets to get to the next gig. 

But where did environmentalism in this country originate? Thoreau, Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold... All of these men were rugged individualists fighting fat cat corporate dilettantes who needed expensive hunting guides and a palanquin to venture out in the wilderness. And where did the US-wide ecology movement, with the muscle to get legislation like the ESA passed come from, well in large part from San Francisco. It was the quintessential hippy group, the Diggers, that organized the very first Earth Day in 1969. It was Dennis Hayes, the ex-president of the Rainforest Action Network, who organized Earth Day 1970. It was Stewart Brand and Michael McClure and Gary Snyder at the 1972 UN conference in Stockholm who, in McClure's words, "took it upon themselves to represent whales, Indians, and the freedom of the diversity of the environment." 

My point is this: throwing the hippies out of the environmental conversation is a type of revisionist history that the corporations would just love. Then the mainstream could simply ignore the far left's anti-commercialization, anti-globalization, anti-pop culture equation. But throwing hippies out of the environmental conversation is equivalent to removing Thomas Jefferson (it's his birthday, so I had to work him in) from discussions on US history. 

If you look closely at the governor's remarks, you will also notice that he equates "tree huggers" with "prohibitionists" which actually makes little sense to me. All the tree huggers that I've met are actually very accepting, very free flowing, and are more prone to conspiracy theories than policy discussions. My take is that the Govenator is actually disparaging eco-minded politicians and scientists—detail-oriented folks who nag him and delay his agenda—by equating them to dirty hippies, the way the right wingers equated Osma Bin Laden with Saddam Hussein—they are both Muslims, right?

As we move forward, and I do have confidence that we will move forward, the left needs to be very careful to stick together. It's my sense that the tipping point was reached last year in the form of Al Gore, who as far as I can tell, doesn't go around disparaging hippies. Maybe I'm too optimistic. There is just a certain inevitability to it, an inertia, that I've never seen before. And, my point (and time will tell) is that Schwarzenegger may actually represent the new right. I really hope I'm correct about this, but what if Schwarzenegger's positions, which are not that far off a number of European free-market conservatives, actually represent the new beach head of the right wing. (He has called Inhofe, "backward" and "from the stone age"). It might just be that in the environmentalist rush to reach out, we actually might end up loosing ground in the end.

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