Image credit: David Sim, used under Creative Commons license.
I've taken issue with pessimism in the green movement before, but there is a more dangerous negativity at work. It's the pessimism that tells us we have no choice but to continue our addiction to polluting and economically ruinous coal. It's the pessimism that urges us to abandon leadership positions and embrace mediocrity. And it's the pessimism that whispers in our ears that even as we see an ambitious new clean energy paradigm emerging around us, our only hope is to fall back on the fossil-fuel-powered business-as-usual that got us in this mess in the first place.
But while it may be refreshing to call out the nay sayers for what they are, there is a danger in this narrative too. Because nay sayers can still win.
Human Beings Can Do Better
It's true that if we really want to dig ourselves out of our interconnected economic and environmental crises (most folks have forgotten, but the banking collapse was preceded by record high oil prices), we have to rally around a collective narrative. And that narrative must include an ambitious vision of a new, human-scale economy that embraces life, love and community; is powered by clean, renewable energy; and creates opportunities to rebuild and regenerate the natural systems that we rely on for our well-being.
But our narrative must also include an understanding of what we are fighting against. And that's the lack of ambition that tells us that this—our faltering 20th Century economy and our degraded environment—is the best that we human beings can do.
Nothing is Inevitable
We must, however, be wary of complacency. It's true that the fresh, new thinking is on our side, and that (contrary to the anti-environmentalist "chicken-little" jibes we hear all the time), it is the friends of coal, oil and business-as-usual who are selling our species short. But there is nothing inevitable about the dawning of a new economic era. While hindsight allows us to attribute everything, whether it's the end of slavery or the collapse of the British Empire, to the force of history—the fact is that every victory and every step forward for humanity was the result of hard work, debate and struggles by individuals, activists, communities, and nations. For every bright spot in human history, there are a whole host of failures—and I'd be willing to bet that many of those failures were aided by some smooth talking naysayers who told us it was the best we could do.
The tools for rebuilding our economy, rediscovering our communities and repairing the damage done to the natural world are all around us. But tools don't go to work by themselves. We can cast ourselves as heroes in this story. But heroes usually do something.
We'll let the others stand on the sidelines and whine that it can't be done.
Note: Many of the thoughts in this post were inspired by Jeremy Rifkin's important new book: The Third Industrial Revolution.
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