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Can There Be Such a Thing as Smart Greens?

We’ve often had cause to content on the peculiar blindness that makes committed greens some of the worst policy wonks in the world: one high profile initiative after another blows up in highly embarrassing ways. Green policy is often marred by its obliviousness to political and economic realities—think comprehensive global treaties and ambitious carbon-trading schemes that always seem to land with a thud, and Malthusian predictions from the Club of Rome follies of the 1970s to the recent panic over “peak oil” even as a new age of global abundance was dawning.

We’ve often wondered whether or when a ‘smart green’ movement would spring up, of people so concerned about the environment that they took the trouble to think about it in a sensible way. A growing number of dissidents from within the movement are challenging green orthodoxy may point to a more hopeful future both for the movement and for the world. In an excellent new piece in Slate, Keith Kloor profiles what he dubs the “modern” greens, environmentalists who downplay the doomsaying and quasi-nature worship of the green mainstream in favor of, among other things, genetically modified crops, population growth, and economic development:

Green traditionalists are well-represented among environmental scientists, and they publish high-profile papers warning “that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth” to an irreversible tipping point. They issue reports from prestigious science societies warning about a finite planet being run into the ground. Some hold glitzy, international symposiums that put humanity on a mock trial for the global imprint of its civilization.

The common thread: The Anthropocene is an unmitigated disaster. Humans are planet wreckers. Time is running out for us. 

The modernist greens, by contrast, don’t catastrophize. They are even optimistic about the future. Some, like geographer Erle Ellis, point out that “the history of human civilization might be characterized as a history of transgressing natural limits and thriving.” He thus suggests that “we must not see the Anthropocene as a crisis, but as the beginning of a new geological epoch ripe with human-directed opportunity.”

Another way of looking at the Anthropocene is how Mark Lynas puts it in The God Species: “Nature no longer runs the Earth. We do. It is our choice what happens here.”

These voices are still a minority in the green movement. But if they grow, and if they help the movement cast off the Malthusian mindset that has done the environmental cause so much harm, then we may finally get the green movement the world truly needs.

At Via Meadia we don’t actually enjoy castigating climate and other environmental activists as clueless marplots who couldn’t organize a game of tic-tac-toe, much less develop a workable system of global economic regulation that could produce global prosperity while reducing the costs of humanity’s footprint on the biosphere. But we do it because it’s an important subject and because the mainstream media is so in the tank on the issue that genuine critical analysis of green incompetence is hard to find. But we’d much rather cheer on post-blue, post-Malthusian smart greens than grumble about how dumb the old ones are.

“Modern greens” sound like they are asking some of the right questions; we’ll be watching to see what kind of answers they propose.

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