Saving Environmentalism from Itself

Margaret Wente writes:

Mercifully, nobody will pay attention to the climate conference at Cancun next week, where a much-reduced group of delegates will go through the motions. The delusional dream of global action to combat climate change is dead. Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade scheme is dead. Chicago’s carbon-trading market is dead. The European Union’s supposed reduction in carbon emissions has been exposed as a giant fraud. (The EU is actually responsible for 40 per cent more CO2 today than it was in 1990, if you count the goods and services it consumed as opposed to the ones that it produced.) Public interest in climate change has plunged, and the media have radically reduced their climate coverage.

The biggest loser is the environmental movement. For years, its activists neglected almost everything but climate change. They behaved as if they’d cornered the market on wisdom, truth and certainty, and they demonized anyone who dared to disagree. They got a fabulous free ride from politicians and the media, who parroted their claims like Sunday-school children reciting Scripture. No interest group in modern times has been so free from skepticism, scrutiny or simple accountability as the environmental establishment.

Perhaps some good will emerge from the wreckage. (Humility, for example.) Now that global warming has stopped sucking all the oxygen out of the room, some of those who care about the planet will turn to other – and more pressing – problems. There are plenty. Humans are encroaching everywhere on habitats and species. Don’t worry about the polar bears, which have survived hundreds of thousands of years of melting and freezing ice. Worry instead about the lions and tigers, which face extinction within our lifetime. Their problem isn’t climate change. It’s us.

I wrote a column for NRO on the decline of the environmental movement shortly before the election. Like Wente, I suggested the environmentalist movement had veered off course, and that the environment suffers as a result.

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading environmental thinkers have yet to learn the lessons of Communism’s fall. The dominant green fantasy remains that ecological central planning can succeed where economic central planning failed. This is madness. If central planners lack the information and ability to manage economic concerns, how could they ever account for ecological concerns? Economic central planning is impossible; ecological central planning is harder still.

The environmentalist love affair with big government leads to counterproductive policies and alienates large portions of the electorate. Americans may support environmental protection, but they don’t support a massive, overweening regulatory state. If the only Green answer to ecological concerns is yet more government control of private economic activity, many Americans will turn away.