Jared Diamond and the death of environmentalism

The most compelling bit about Adam Werbach’s jeremiad about the death of environmentalism was the vision for a New Apollo Project that would invest in clean energy infrastructure, end dependence on foreign oil, reduce contribution to global warming, and create new business opportunities and jobs.
When Werbach and his team took the story on the road to a town struggling with the lost of manufacturing plants, they were astonished at the hope and enthousiasm that the vision inspired.
Ironically, the rest of the speech is a classic jeremiad exhorting environmentalists to renounce their faith in jeremiads. An environmentalist myth tells a story about a pristine beginning, followed by decline and gruesome collapse and decay. So Werbach tells the elegaic tale: the idealistic beginnings of the environmental movement in the vision of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, through its decline into policy wonkdom and voter-alienating pessimism, and defeat at the hands of cheerful Republican exploiters.
The screed about the death of environmentalism is aimed at persuading old true believers to give up hope in winning environmental issues on their own, and to join the broader progressive movement. If you’re not an old-time true believer, the speech isn’t meant for you. If you’re an old-time disbeliever, the speech will confirm your stereotypes.
Here’s the lesson for rest of us, who are looking to assess today’s situation, and what to do now. Diamond’s Collapse wants to be our generation’s Silent Spring. In “Collapse”, Diamond argues persuasively that societies need to make foresighted decisions to avert the collapse of their civilization brought on by environmental destruction.
The way to inspire people and leaders to make those good decisions isn’t just fear. Fear alone will lead people to put their heads in the sand. The way to inspire people is to provide an hopeful vision that reframes the threat of scarcity into an alternatve vision of abundance.
I’d love to hear a political candidate wrap a story of energy independence, technology progress, business opportunity, and national security. It uses the same story, framed as hope, not fear.

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