What happened to saving the earth?
January 31, 2019 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain what the heck happened to environmentalism? I mean, 40 years ago we knew about global warming and everyone was on board for sustainability. Now, two generations later, it seems like we're even worse off.

This is inspired by the recent question about world economics.

If we were to assume overall goodwill and rational self-interest and group preservation instincts, surely we wouldn't be in the predicament we are in now. And yet, here were are. Is there a search term for this phenomenon?

For example, there was a big scare with fuel rationing in the 70's, and then they put in the CAFE emission standards, but then people discovered the giant SUV-shaped loophole. I pictured presidents and CEOs having grandchildren reminding them to conserve the natural environment, but apparently not?

This sounds naive but I'd really like to know. Is there a scientific, historical, or psychological explanation for what the heck happened here?
posted by dum spiro spero to Law & Government (36 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The Tragedy of the Commons?
posted by peacheater at 7:10 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals (The Guardian):
These pervasive exhortations to individual action — in corporate ads, school textbooks, and the campaigns of mainstream environmental groups, especially in the west — seem as natural as the air we breathe. But we could hardly be worse-served.

While we busy ourselves greening our personal lives, fossil fuel corporations are rendering these efforts irrelevant. The breakdown of carbon emissions since 1988? A hundred companies alone are responsible for an astonishing 71%. You tinker with those pens or that panel; they go on torching the planet.

The freedom of these corporations to pollute – and the fixation on a feeble lifestyle response – is no accident. It is the result of an ideological war, waged over the last 40 years, against the possibility of collective action. Devastatingly successful, it is not too late to reverse it.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:15 PM on January 31, 2019 [109 favorites]

The difference between 40 years ago, when many people (rationally) believed that rational self-interest involved saving the earth we lived in, and now, when many people believe rational self-interest involves corporations making as much profit as possible with no limitations and damn anything else, is the rise of neoliberalism.
posted by nantucket at 7:15 PM on January 31, 2019 [7 favorites]

The fossil fuel industry owns the government, as well as the mining industry. They have manipulated , and are currently manipulating religious opinion, selling end times, and fighting the end times is sold as unfaithful. Environmental groups are always under investigation, even personal type of infiltration techniques used. A lot of folks are working hard for the environment, and dying for it, around the Earth. Look at what was done to the pipeline protesters, in some cases foreign mercenaries, with attack dogs, jail time, criminal records, beatings. Goliath is winning at the moment.
posted by Oyéah at 7:17 PM on January 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

What Happened to 90s Environmentalism? on Scott Alexander’s blog is an essay that deep dives into this question and comes up with some relatively optimistic answers. Obviously differences of opinion exist but it is an analysis worth reading.
posted by phoenixy at 7:19 PM on January 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

40 years ago we knew about global warming and everyone was on board for sustainability.
They really weren't, though. Environmentalism's gains, such as they are, have always been incremental, and have always encountered a combination of actual pushback and general laziness. Unless you make it really ridiculously easy for the consumer to recycle, e.g., many of them *just won't.*

At a macro level, you're also looking at a whole set of confounding factors all adding up to a ton of US Americans buying into decades-long disinformation campaigns intentionally casting doubt on climate change, sustainability, and environmentalism. In particular, the fossil fuel industry threw its outsized lobbying weight around and helped tar environmentalism/conservation with the same brush as hippies, feminists, atheists etc. etc.

This was desirable to them in order to help maximize profits - in general, doing things sustainably is more expensive for the extraction industry, and plastics/disposables are the sideline that lets them sell more shit. Conservatism and conservationism are natural bedfellows in many ways, but the modern American right wing has largely come to see them as contradictory. Add in the perverse milennarianism of many Evangelicals, who've been indoctrinated into the bizarre stance that God wants them to use everything, and that the faster it's all used up, the faster we get the rapture . . .

The thing is, big chunks of the rest of the planet are doing their damnedest to sign treaties, go carbon neutral, etc. etc. And despite the US's cyclical intransigence on the issue, the last two democratic administrations both managed to push through significant environmentalist agendas (each time only to be rolled back or undermined by their successors). There is a huge worldwide environmentalist movement.

If we were to assume overall goodwill and rational self-interest and group preservation instincts

There's simply no reason to assume any of those things.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:20 PM on January 31, 2019 [26 favorites]

40 years ago we knew about global warming and everyone was on board for sustainability.

In the US they rejected this explicitly with the election of Reagan.
posted by pompomtom at 7:25 PM on January 31, 2019 [17 favorites]

Change is hard. There are powerful constituencies whose livelihood depends on the denial of global warming.

Good scientists are by their nature conservative in what they claim. Push back on them and they become even more conservative. Hence the problems have always been underestimated.

Global warming has -- until recently -- been a distant threat. Humans are built to focus on the needs of the day: feeding their families today; taking care of today's business. Global warming has never felt like an imminent threat. Until now. It is hard to make sacrifices for the future, especially when the dangers are portrayed as uncertain and the costs are portrayed as high. Change is hard.

Ultimately people want to eat and feed their families. Most people don't give a fuck much about anything else.

About 30 years ago I had a friend Liz. She was a super crunchy granola peace and nature loving person. Her sister had cancer. Her sister was dying. Liz was ready to try anything to save her sister. At one point she told me she had met a Chinese herbalist who was going to sell her some ground up entrails from a wild Siberian Tiger that would help heal her sister. She was all on board.

My reaction was, "What the fuck? Are you really going to be complicit in extinction of species on the off-chance this isn't total bullshit?" She said, "But it's my sister." I said, "What is more important, your sister or a Siberian Tiger?" She didn't answer, but for 99.9% of the world, their sister is more important. Fuck the tiger. Fuck extinction. Fuck the future. Just take care of today and let tomorrow's people worry about tomorrow. Today is hard enough.

Well guess what, though. It's tomorrow. So now we get to start really dealing with it. At last.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:41 PM on January 31, 2019 [19 favorites]

There was a concerted effort by some very large corporations to sow doubt and change the public discourse toward doubt. They used a handful of cold warrior scientists as messengers. This is a time tested strategy that worked for decades with tobacco, and it is still working today with climate change. For more, check out Merchants of Doubt.
posted by rockindata at 8:12 PM on January 31, 2019 [7 favorites]

Rational self-interest, and the reasons people act against it, is what behavioral economics addresses. There are predictable phenomena that push people against what is "rational"; the whole field is about understanding that and working with those tendencies to help set up systems that encourage people to make better (or at least more desirable to someone) decisions.

For more info, look at Dan Ariely's work and his book, "Predictably Irrational".

Note: some of these principles are probably being used to make you do things that you would just as soon _not_ do, and they can amount to a kind of manipulation. However, the forces being used are always in play one way or an other, whether people are consciously affecting them or not, so being conscious of them will give individuals more understanding and control of their own decisions.
posted by amtho at 9:03 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can we blame the baby boomers and the massive demographic bulge that allowed them to vote in their generation's self-interest to the detriment of everyone else? (That would be so easy, and also offer a glimmer of hope.)
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:20 PM on January 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could, but stop blaming all Boomers when you're really meaning their subset, the Yuppies. They were formerly hippies who could've carried 70s environmentalism into the 1980s, but Reagan put 'em all to sleep after they were Scared Straight.
posted by Rash at 10:16 PM on January 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

No, when I waa a young boomer. I thought when the Strom Thurmonds and Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan style greedy old racist pro-business men were dead that things would get better. I was an anti-Vietnam war activist, a pro-choice advocate and volunteered in a free clinic for poor people and a women's shelter and have worked in a natural food co-op for 35 years. There are lots of us boomers that have fought all out lives for woman's rights and to preserve and improve our environment. It seemed liked things were gradually improving but during the Reagan years business interests and pure greed undermined a great deal of progress. James Watt, Reagan's Sec. of Interior famously believed that there is no reason to conserve natural resources because god was gonna rapture all the good folks to heaven soon. sigh... It's true that a lot of us boomer age people got older and tired of working so hard for positive change but our hearts and votes are in the right place.

All those old f#*ks I mentioned are dead but there are plenty of younger selfish greedheads from their 20s through their 90s who step right into the "as long as I've got mine, I don't give a damn about anyone else" way of operating. I'm sorry to say, that in my observation, there are always newer, younger vipers stepping up to take the old one's places. It's a wonder that any progress gets made when the enemies of caring, conserving and social justice have such massive wealth and power.

Not to say there's no hope. Good people who want to help make the world better also keep coming up or coming back to the fight. Remember Hillary won the popular vote. We keep making progress, sometimes losing ground, but we keep working for change and incrementally things have gotten better.

So here is one boomer who has many times cried and nearly despaired of the human race. I too have wondered if humanity and our works will ever be fair and sustainable. But after the tears dried, I and my peers have gotten right back up and we're voting and marching and donating and recycling and volunteering and knitting pussy hats and comforting the afflicted and ourselves. We just won't ever give in or give up.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:17 PM on January 31, 2019 [35 favorites]

Can we blame the baby boomers

Tempting, but probably not, really. For one, many boomers were/are foundational to environmentalism - worldwide, they were in many ways the first generation who was really engaged with this stuff from a policy perspective.

For another, the distinctions between generations are largely a marketing fiction. The "baby boom" has nothing on the last forty years, during which the US population grew by 100 million people and the world population nearly doubled. Gen-X is proving to be equally shitty in many ways, and really I'm not convinced birth year is a super-useful correlative to zeitgeist.

The "green revolution" in agriculture--which enabled the half-century population boom we're sitting in--is in many ways responsible for some of the worst environmental disasters of our time, and that's one of the biggest tensions moving forward: Monocropping and food animal husbandry are both enormously environmentally destructive and likely unsustainable, but the current world population may well be unsustainable without them, and the population is quite likely to double at least once more before reaching equilibrium at current growth rates.

We're all going to have to deal with this, so blaming a group so ambiguous as the boomers probably isn't super-useful as framing, especially when it's really a fairly small group of very wealthy people who have very clearly manipulated the conversation to benefit their revenue source.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:20 PM on January 31, 2019 [12 favorites]

My theory is that environmentalism on a private scale ("YOU can make a DIFFERENCE!") is great when you're talking about a public park, about not throwing trash out your car window, about not defiling public lands, about things on a city-wide or county-wide level. Maybe even a state-wide level. It's great when you're talking about fuel efficient homes and vehicles and not polluting your local waters. What it's not great at is effecting real change at global scale.

I'll use California as an microcosm example: During the recent major drought years, we went nuts reducing personal water consumption. Cities funded xeriscaping (they'd pay you to remove your water-hungry green grass and New England flower garden lawns and replace them with native plants, rocks, etc). We all got low-flow toilets and showerheads and some places got usage-shaming numbers on their water bills (like "You use x% more than the average of your neighborhood! Consider these water-saving measures...") We got outraged when news reports broke that rich folks just continued to pay the bill to allow cracked pools and broken sprinklerheads for their vast lawns leak to the tune of hundreds of millions of gallons of water. We turned off public art fountains. We ripped out vast swaths of public greenery and replaced them with gravel, we let our yards die or paved them over.

What nobody talked about on a large scale, though, was that only 3% of California's water usage is from homes or city use. The VAST majority of the use is industrial or agricultural, and reducing that use was either not discussed or not acted on at the public policy level the way individual use was.

We all adjusted to cleaning up litter, curbside recycling, fuel efficiency, not dumping paint and motor oil down sewer drains, not burning trash, reducing unnecessary water usage, and it's all become a totally normal, average, societally encouraged part of life... and it's not fucking working.

Yeah, our neighborhoods might be cleaner, our cars might get a few more miles per gallon, our air might be cleaner most days, but the years keep getting hotter, the air stays smoggy, floods and mudslides (when it actually rains) keep getting worse, and every year more thing burn during fire season, and the news keeps getting more dire. So it doesn't work on the massive global scale that we're told it needs to, because the environmentalism sold to individuals isn't actually what's needed, even though we all keep doing it on the scale we can.

It feels like we're brandishing a squirt gun in the face of a forest fire. So maybe we don't talk as much about it anymore.
posted by erst at 10:21 PM on January 31, 2019 [28 favorites]

Corporations got hurt by regulations in the 60s and 70s and started hiring thousands of full time workers to confuse issues so thoroughly that you have to be a domain expert to guess how harmful anything is. Besides encouraging "individual efforts" (while downplaying the massive effects of things like concrete plants, aluminum smelters, and giant container ships), industries engaged in greenwashing, lobbying, and minimizing the power of regulations/fines any way they could. As merketers learned how to exploit environmental desires, environmentalism got turned into yet another consumer choice that encourages you to buy more shit.
posted by benzenedream at 11:39 PM on January 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

It makes sense to me when viewed in terms of class interests. The worst-case scenarios for climate change are not likely to involve the planet becoming completely uninhabitable -- it will simply be much less inhabitable than it is now, i.e. it will be able to sustain far fewer people at their current standard of living. And when that happens, the very wealthy assume that they'll be the ones to make it through unscathed, while the poor, the non-citizens, etc., get swept away by the rising seas or what have you. As such, they're free to ignore and even deny the threat of climate change.

This idea, and its implications on possible future societies (as well as that of widespread automation) are explored in Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, which I recommend highly.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:15 AM on February 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

40 years ago we knew about global warming

40 years ago we made the mistake of calling it "global warming", giving a disingenuous but convincing-to-those-who-didn't-want-to-believe-it counter-argument: How can it be global WARMING if we just had a BLIZZARD. You and I know that climate change is not just about "warming", but the damage is done.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:15 AM on February 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Nathaniel Rich at the New York Times Magazine: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change
posted by General Malaise at 4:47 AM on February 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I actually feel like the reverse is true. At least in the UK environmentalism has taken hold in the last couple of decades in a way that might have felt unimaginable before. Reducing the level of plastic is a big thing and drives both government policy, and individual behaviour. Systematic recycling is much more the norm, again enabled by policy changes. Pollution from cars has decreased. We had our first day without using coal to generate electricity, and the number of coal-free days keeps going up.

Climate change is still happening, we aren't doing enough, there is plenty of work to do, we might fail, businesses and some politicians get in our way. But stuff is happening.

Everywhere is not America?
posted by plonkee at 5:47 AM on February 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

I mean, 40 years ago we knew about global warming and everyone was on board for sustainability.

Kind of. But mostly 40 years ago they worried about acid rain, waterway pollution, hazardous chemical exposure, smog, and ozone depletion. CFC’s were banned in aerosol cans in 1978. Also people worried about energy consumption and efficiency.

Cars and trucks are much, much cleaner-burning than they once were. Vehicle efficiency overall is better; you have some really good options, and even the gas guzzlers guzzle less than they used to. Small engines are much cleaner than they used to be—you don’t see clouds of blue smoke when you run a chain saw or weed eater, or an outboard motor. You don’t have the big belching smokestacks you used to have. Acid rain is less of a thing, and the ozone layer seems to have stabilized. Air quality, especially in California, is much better, due directly to the air quality regulations they put in place.

You can recycle now, pretty easily, with your regular trash pickup in a lot of places, and it at least sort of works.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:27 AM on February 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Three things that work together:

1) Popular science has broadcast so much ambiguous lifestyle science around subjects like “are eggs bad for you?” People have come to believe scientists don’t know, they guess a lot, they often put up false alarms. The science of climate change is nothing like that, but people don’t know that and scientists are often not emphatic enough on that point.

2) The science of climate change is hard. Why does a single degree of global average temperatures have such a large effect when you can’t feel the difference between 68 and 69 degrees? How can trace amounts of CO2 matter so much? How does these even work? Most people don’t understand radiant energy vs. heat, they don’t get the basic layout of the atmosphere, they don’t understand why one molecule would trap energy in a different way than another. None of it is tangibly related to our mundane experiences.

3) Everything we do depends on fossil fuels.

It’s a wonder that anyone wants to do anything. The bulwark of resistance to meaningful action is enormous and possibly immovable.
posted by argybarg at 6:41 AM on February 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

I don't think people were that interested forty years ago. I remember when the book "Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth" came out. Someone wrote an article called "Difficult Things You Can Do to Save the Earth," which included things like becoming a vegetarian and getting rid of your car. Sure, people recycle and don't throw their motor oil down the drain, but how many people become vegans for the environment? (I know it's not popular to say individual actions make a difference, partly because nobody wants to do the hard stuff, but it would make a huge difference if everyone who claimed to care about the environment went vegan. Yeah, a lot of water usage is "agricultural" - there would be a lot less agricultural usage if people stopped eating meat.)

Can we blame the baby boomers and the massive demographic bulge that allowed them to vote in their generation's self-interest to the detriment of everyone else? (That would be so easy, and also offer a glimmer of hope.)
No, of course not. Baby boomers are individuals just like everyone else. I'm the only boomer in my group of much younger friends and also the only vegan. Of course, they all are upset about the environment. You can tell because they recycle.

The real problem is that people are basically selfish and don't want to give up things that they like or that are convenient. It's much easier to say the government should "do something."
posted by FencingGal at 6:46 AM on February 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also, coordinated action is hard. Even if everybody believed fervently that climate change was real, man-made and perilous, it would be a very hard problem to solve.

I get why people blame the rich bastards. That’s an easy story to understand and has a nice emotinal discharge to it. Won’t solve anything though.
posted by argybarg at 6:51 AM on February 1, 2019

I think the "Overton Window" is a flawed theory in many ways, but American conservatives have been quite successful in spinning an anti-environmentalist agenda on top of national security fears, and also have been successful in painting climate-change discussion as alarmist and damaging. This goes all the way back to Reagan/Bush who made industrialization a mandate for winning the Cold War.

The Clinton administration eschewed radicalism in favor of preserving American economic interests, with a mixed record on the climate-change front. While the Clinton administration admitted the realities of climate change and other issues, it consistently demanded unworkable concessions, blocked consensus in treaty negotiations, and treated multiple environmentalist groups as violent domestic terrorists.

Post 9/11 we had multiple cultural shifts. Atheism was effectively steplejacked with former prophets about climate change and global nuclear war displaced by anti-Muslim apologists for conservative politicians. We also saw a big increase in conservatives framing environmentalism as part of a "culture war." By the time we got Obama, we were in a situation where Obama was criticized as a leftist for advocating personal fuel-efficiency steps that had previously been promoted by Nixon and Ford.

So part of the answer is that in the American political sphere, Republicans have become more radical on anti-environmentalism, while Democrats have attempted to forge compromise policies.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:12 AM on February 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Environmentalism needs to be re-branded. The Earth will be fine no matter how much we attempt to eff it up. Humans are the ones that are threatened. And I have yet to see that humans have woken up this fact. Humans seem to only react to dire circumstances, and like the proverbial frog in the hot water, they may not act in time. They seem content to enjoy their hot tub while it lasts.
posted by terrapin at 7:29 AM on February 1, 2019

I think your "everyone was on board" about 40 years ago is not correct. I am the ~35 year old daughter of Midwestern conservatives who were late to the recycling game - and who even now do it somewhat begrudgingly - whose opinions on automotive fuel efficiency are tied purely to "do I want to pay to fill up this gas tank or not", who keep their house cooled to 68 degrees in the summer in the desert, who exclusively drink bottled water, who are disdainful about a lot of efforts around renewable energy, who thought Al Gore and his "Inconvenient Truth" were hilarious, and who are of the opinion that climate change is natural and has always been happening and there's nothing we have done or could do to change it. *Pollution* is one thing - there are tangible things to notice there, like nasty creeks and rivers (or flammable rivers!) or smog. They could get kind of on board with that - until it seemed to be better (or even "solved") so there was less to really be concerned about. But individually changing their lives with inconvenience for some abstract concept of "sustainability"? That was never a thing discussed or taken seriously while I was growing up, even as my school introduced the ideas of recycling and greenhouse effects and acid rain, and the way in which their politics influences their economic opinions means ideas like cap-and-trade or carbon taxes are antithetical to what they think makes a productive, successful economy. And I grew up with a *lot* of people like them. So I would not ask "what happened that everyone changed their minds" as though these opinions came out of nowhere, but rather "what happened to bring these people, who have always existed, to the forefront of the conversation?"
posted by olinerd at 7:32 AM on February 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

I was just coming in to note the difference between problems that fall in the category of "pollution", many of which have improved a whole lot, and the larger greenhouse gas problem, but Olinerd beat me to it.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:39 AM on February 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

While it's certainly a factor, there's definitely a lot more going on here than people are basically selfish and don't want to give up things that they like or that are convenient - as detailed by several thoughtful responses in this very thread.

Being able to choose what you eat is, to a certain extent, a luxury. Being able to afford non-plastic non-disposable goods is a luxury. McDonald's is a cheaper source of filling calories than damn near anything else you can buy, especially if you don't have the free time, know-how, or appliances to cook from scratch. Big Ag is intentionally producing surpluses of various animal and plant-based foods (we talk about the cheese surplus quite a bit around here), and is both monetarily subsidized and encouraged by policy to continue to do so.

Lifestyle choices surely won't hurt, and are probably a good place to start on a lot of things anyway; for one thing they make consumers more aware of their consumption habits and help push things like emissions standards (and are probably quite a bit healthier to boot, but I don't know that having humans live longer is necessarily a net positive for the environment). But . . . I mean, India has by far the highest number of vegetarians in the world, and still has horrible environmental problems. "Everybody should be vegan" is as reductive as "blame the boomers."

It's much easier to say the government should "do something."
I would argue the opposite - Neoliberal extraction fetishists tried to convince everyone that individual choices would have meaningful effect on climate change, and as e.g. California discovered, that is simply a drop in the bucket. It's quite difficult to even propose, let alone get through Congress, the sweeping and enforceable types of policy that may be the only way to put a meaningful dent in this.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:40 AM on February 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Earth will be fine no matter how much we attempt to eff it up.

I hear this said a ton, usually with George Carlin’s name attached (whether he actually said it or not). I think it’s ridiculous. It involves some definition of “fine” that I can’t be on board with. We’re triggering a mass extinction, the CO2 will be affecting climate for 100,000 years or more, and for all we know we could be inducing a runaway feedback effect that won’t clear up for a hellishly long time. What version of “fine” is that? What do I care that things will be back to normal 25 million years from now?

I give a shit about the ecosystems we’re demolishing.
posted by argybarg at 8:17 AM on February 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

In the US, it's Republicans. I mean it - neoliberal narratives and active program destruction led by the GOP.
posted by Miko at 10:30 AM on February 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Carlin did say it, and it displays an uncharacteristic lack of relational thinking (although I sympathize somewhat with being annoyed at the particular type of smug holier-than-thou asshole that bit was taking aim at). But yeah, arguments that "the earth will be fine" are weaponized as part of the same rhetoric that seeks to steer people away from environmental concerns.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:58 PM on February 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Earth will be fine no matter how much we attempt to eff it up.

Cannot cite, but somewhere I read that Neil Armstrong jettisoned his space boots before re-entry to avoid contamination. I remember thinking, oh great, we use space as a trash can too. Boots weren't all - there is a whole lot of discarded equipment floating around out there. I have also heard the idea that one way to get rid of nuclear waste would be to send it into space. Given the state of our own planet, this sort of information makes me morose. I mean I know space is... vast, but come on.

One way to look at this attitude is to relate it to risk. As in, our peculiar and distorted perceptions of such. People are more terrified of flying than dying in a car crash, yet they drive a whole lot more. (I am thinking of an essay in the Norton Reader, Shorter Edition, 12th, I believe - I do not have it with me.) I think perhaps this is how people behave in regards to the environment. The destruction is stark all around us, we are dying of various cancers and chemically-related illnesses, and yet people continue to be oblivious, in the name of convenience and just plain aversion to change. Easier to just toss the bottle into the lake, right? And the six-pack plastic ring thing. It's only one, right? That fish I'm eating from the same lake, didn't really injest plastic, right? I couldn't possibly be eating plastic, that would be terrible! That turtle didn't suffocate in the plastic ring binder thing right? And so on.

It seems to me that it has always been the efforts of a few versus the indifference of the many, when it comes to the environment. Humanity is built to struggle to live another day, no matter the cost. Moreover, for many, as someone noted above, the struggle is all they can think about. McDonald's to eat tonight or go hungry to save the environment? Most people would choose the former, sadly but understandably.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 4:17 PM on February 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Specifically with the US - the big answer is not just Republicans, but specifically the Koch brothers around 2010. Remember, back in the Olden Days of 2008, Newt Gingrich once appeared with Nancy Pelosi in a commercial for cap and trade, and John McCain touted his renewable energy bona fides when he was up against Obama.

Part of what happened was the passage of Citizens United, and the Koch brothers made taking a stance against a carbon tax part of the price of earning their support. This was a massive watershed moment in how Republicans went from supporting a market-based solution for climate change to full-scale denial. It's not because they suddenly got less educated. It's because the massive amounts of money required them to repudiate any previous efforts to even acknowledge that a problem existed in the first place.

Prior to the Republicans losing their collective minds, it's also worth remembering that companies like ExxonMobil engaged in a decades-long full-scale tobacco industry-esque campaign of burying their own research on the harmful effects of climate change and sowing doubt in the public sphere.

Another major factor is that fossil fuel companies count undeveloped gas and petroleum reserves on the positive side of their balance sheets. Entire industries that measure their profitability in quarterly reports, not decades-long outlooks, depend on the continued development of fossil fuels in order to literally keep doing what their shareholders expect (i.e., turning assets like oil deposits into profits). In other words, the system has a MASSIVE incentive to keep things going, because current shareholders will benefit while the shit completely hitting the fan won't come until later.

Finally, attempts to solve climate change within a capitalist framework like cap and trade have faltered. Market-based solutions have limited success and limited political appeal. A lot of folks (and I am one of them) genuinely have come to believe we're at the point of ecosocialism or barbarism.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:35 PM on February 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Beginning the modern environmental movement in the US from the 1970s were successful in putting a stop to visible pollution. Success! All done! National regulations worked where state-by-state efforts failed!
posted by filthy light thief at 8:19 PM on February 7, 2019

specifically the Koch brothers around 2010

Mm yeah but those are all recent effects of seeds planted in the 1960s. The Koch family ideology comes out of John Bircherism, and the twin agendas of weakening regulation and government protections and oversight ("small government") and stoking racial tension to continue dividing the middle and working classes while profiting from privatization schemes for schools and prisons - these two things have been part of the long-range GOP plan for 50 years. The particular tactics change, as you note, but the end goal - circling the wagons of wealth around a privileged white few - have never wavered. Sure the Kochs have been powerful proponents, but these ideas are certainly not new. We're living in the last phases of a very successful long-term capture plan.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older How do I screen potential roommates?   |   Upgrading my wristwatch -- for a femme petite... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.