Sometimes it pays to troll through the news, even a grubby old-fashioned newspaper. I grabbed a hard copy of the Globe and Mail in a hotel lobby on a recent trip, enjoying the nostalgic feelings of smudged ink and that sweet, familiar irritation that the Starbucks table was too small to lay it out properly.
Luckily, the hard copy transcended my petty grievances handily. There was a gem of an article buried on P4 of the business section, which is too bad, because it was brilliant. It was on the opinion page of the Monday business section, the real estate equivalent of a house next to a meat packing plant, with the smallest, un-bolded headline font currently available on the market. This is a crying shame, because the article’s contents should form the cornerstone of environmental discussions for the next five years.
It didn’t help that the article first appeared in print and online with a bizarre title: “Why ‘green’ might not be the colour of money,” which was an unfortunately weird headline that gave no clue as to content. Most headlines consist of turbocharged hype that dials in on one sensational quote/statistic/inference in the article and waves it around like a head on a pike to attract eyeballs. Given the shelf life of non-sensational online stories, it’s no wonder the piece went nowhere before it somehow found a more useful title: “It’s time to rethink our messaging about environmental change.” But even this title is abysmal; the entire content of the piece is not about changing a message, but rethinking the work of the entire climate change industry. No wonder the Globe’s editors were unable to describe it correctly; it’s a concept that’s never been seen in public before.
The article was the work of two academics (Jennifer Lynes and Sarah Wolfe, both environmentally departmented professors from the University of Waterloo), who pointed out something that many of us feel deep down: that current efforts to promote environmental innovation and change are not working. The greenest segment of the population is getting greener, and the other 90 percent would totally love to help but sorry I just bought this SUV and a Greenpeace sticker on the back just would not work at all.
The analysis of the current stalemate was brief, but laser-sharp and accurate. Four simple points are made that should be enough to derail the current monolithic environment industry and start a new revolution, but they will have a hard time because the media couldn’t have cared less.
The article’s four pertinent points are: that only a fraction of the population is motivated by the health of the planet; that more information does not lead to more action; that scare tactics don’t work; and that environmental products have to be desirable before they become adopted. Each point is supported by logical and balanced reasons that are hard to argue with, which explains why the article was pointedly ignored by even its owner.
The piece is a refreshingly clear statement about where the environmental debate should be going. The agenda has been hijacked by people who make a very good living waging war against industry and consumers, and really couldn’t care less if they are doing anything constructive. An expensive war is being waged that makes most feel like hypocrites, behaviours are only marginally changing, and we need a reboot of the goal and the tactics needed to get there.
Can anyone imagine shrill organizations like the National Resources Defense Council, or 350.org, actually sitting down and having an intelligent conversation about these 4 points, all of which are undeniably true? It would never happen. Those types of anarchic cash sinkholes aren’t interested in progress, they are interested in a fight. The NRDC claims in its banner that it uses “law, science, and the support of 500000+ members” to “stop the assault on the environment.” 350.org claims to be “building a global climate movement” from the “bottom-up by people in 188 countries.”
They are doing nothing but providing employment for thousands of people who are very angry that society won’t play the way they want them to. They attack like Mongol hordes the infrastructure that average citizens relentlessly and unfailingly demand. That ever growing demand is the “assault on the environment,” a direct result of the bottom-up demand of “people in 188 countries.” There’s the problem, protesters.
Blocking a pipeline or convincing a pension fund not to invest in oil stocks does not have even the most infinitesimal impact on the amount of oil that will be consumed today, tomorrow, or in 20 years. They are feel good issues for the environmental industry because they demonstrate progress, which for the other 90% demonstrates nuisance.
There is no evidence that this environmental progress amounts to anything. The war that was waged against Keystone XL was long and ugly, and when Trump reversed the decision it hardly made the news, which it would have if it were the environmental catastrophe it was made out to be for half a decade. It was an artificial and ineffectively symbolic war created for media purposes, with the only true result being that a lot of money was absorbed in the middle. (Come to think of it that sums up investment banking as well. But I digress).
It is so sad that such a great story, from scientists who are as much scientists as the IPCC’s legions, was so widely ignored. The fact that it was speaks volumes about the current quality of the discussion – there is none. Environmental discussions have become religious discussions. The ten percent that are driving the climate change debate are trying to get the other 90 to adopt their god, but the commandments are way harder than the old Christian ones. Sure, I can promise not to kill anyone, but give up flying? Outta my way, weirdo.
Sincere environmentalists will want to take note of articles like these, and because they are thoughtful they will start to move down the proper axis, from destruction to construction, rather than the false battleground between good and bad that is currently being promoted.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here