A note from Shea: I'm out of pocket this week working on a project in Iowa and have asked a few of my green blogger friends to help me out by writing some guest posts. Enjoy this piece from Chris Baskind, writer and editor of More Minimal. I'll be back in action next week.
So how screwed is the environmental movement, anyway?
The question is worth asking. You'd have to be pretty tone deaf not to realize we've all been dancing to a score that has hit a few sour notes of late: the failure of the Copenhagen COP-15 talks, Climategate, and last week's State of the Union address (with its litany of nukes, coal and offshore drilling).
An unfortunate series of temporary setbacks, perhaps, but there's still some good news. Polls to continue to show strong public support for climate legislation. A Washington Post-ABC News survey taken in December showed an overwhelming 65 percent of American favor government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and these results mirror others worldwide. But that such polls could be commonly viewed as a barometer of green health is telling. Environmentalism has essentially become a single-issue movement, and this is as bad for our overall cause as it is the planet.
Who are you calling 'single issue?'
We owe An Inconvenient Truth a debt of thanks for renewing ecological discussion. Before 2006, when former Vice President Al Gore's book was first published, the environmental movement in the United States was largely on the ropes, reeling from six years of an unfriendly administration and largely off the cultural radar. A surprising hit movie and a Nobel Prize later, you can't walk down a store aisle without seeing energy-efficient bulbs and eco-friendly packaging.
This is progress, driven by the specters of rising global temperatures, melting glaciers, and castaway polar bears. But the very nature of this climate theatre has pushed aside — at least in terms of popular agenda — the fundamentals of environmentalism: clean air, clean water, and care for the biodiversity on which human life depends. As I've been writing for the past few years, there are numerous issues demanding immediate attention that cannot be shoved aside by a sole focus on climate change.
The problem with being a one-issue movement is it only takes a single game changer to bring everything to a standstill. We're living through one of these today, in the form of worldwide recession. It's really not surprising that COP-15 was a political failure, given the current economic climate. Our job hasn't been made easier by public belief that technology is somehow going to solve all our problems without significant social change. Like it or not, all our lives will be transformed by the Minimalist Century.
Back to basics
Climate change isn't likely to go away anytime soon, but it's my hope that environmentalists recommit themselves to at least five fundamental issues.
1. Strengthening existing environmental legislation: The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts have been chipped away by eight years of polluter-friendly dithering, and should be expanded to address the challenges and technology of the 21st century.
2. Radical investment in renewable energy: There's probably no more pressing issue than addressing the end of cheap oil. Finding scalable replacements for fossil fuels is essential to our environmental and economic health.
3. Restoration of ocean and forest ecosystems: Up to 29 percent of marine species have been overfished or so affected by human mismanagement that they are on the brink of collapse. On land, this destruction is paralleled by runaway deforestation.
4. Clean water for everyone: Over a billion people lack access to safe water supplies. This is a crisis — and it's likely to get worse under pressure from ballooning urban populations and a restless climate.
5. Promotion of sustainable, less consumptive living: This is my particular area of interest, and I'll be launching a new website this month, The Minimalist Century, to explore the coming revolution in personal and community lifestyles.
Just like the environment, the green movement requires diversity to remain healthy. We're only as screwed as our refusal to address the basics of environmentalism.
Chris Baskind writes about sustainable living, minimalism, and the environment. He's the editor of More Minimal, a blog about minimalism and sustainable lifestyles, and Lighter Footstep, where "Living Cheap Is the New Green." Later this month, he'll be launching a new site, The Minimalist Century (read more about this project here). Follow Chris Baskind on Twitter.
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