Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Getting to Green

Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution, by Frederic C. Rich

I really liked this book!  It has a hopeful tone and is all about the massive common ground we really have in the US about environmental issues.  I also read it right before the inauguration, which made it read a little differently than it sounded when Rich wrote it (it was published in 2016, so I'm assuming he wrote it in 2015).  After that it became a weirdly ironic book as the last couple of weeks have unfolded.  Thus my delay in writing about it...

Rich's premise is that the trend of hyperpartisanism we've had for the past few administrations has really hurt our ability to get anything real done.  The last really effective piece of federal environmental legislation passed was in 1990, when Bush signed the Clean Air Act that called for a reduction in emissions that produced acid rain.  That bipartisan-designed legislation was a huge success; atmospheric acids were sharply reduced, and more easily and cheaply than expected.  It was considered a model for environmental progress that made both parties happy.  And it was the last time the US passed a major environmental bill.  There hasn't been one since.

Most Americans want a clean environment.  We are in favor of clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and land that we can all enjoy.  And yet, the environmentalist movement (called Green for short) has lost its way.  Greens tend to assume that conservatives are the enemy, and not for working with -- but can't pass any legislation with only one-sided support.  Republicans tend to assume that Greens hate capitalism and jobs.  With everyone busy virtue-signaling and obsessed with symbolism more than action, nothing gets done.  How to move forward and work together on something that, really, we all want?

Rich, a lawyer who has done a lot of work with both sides, has plenty of ideas.  He gives everybody a little bit of a scolding for things he sees as mistakes, and he has a plan for working together for progress which he calls Center Green.  It's good stuff.  I would really, really recommend this book; perhaps even more now, because it offers so many good ways for Greens to reach conservatives.  Rich points out the many ways that environmentalism has historically been a core conservative value.  It is expressed in different terms, which leftists frequently do not understand. 

Rich believes that right and left can work together, each expressing deeply held beliefs.  Instead of requiring ideological purity from allies (such as the insistence from many leftists that an environmentalist must also sign on to a wide package of leftist positions), we can work together on things we agree on.  Fracturing ourselves into ever-smaller groups with ever-longer lists of required beliefs will never lead to practical action.

On the vexed question of climate change, Rich argues that this is not an issue about which we necessarily need to convert each other.  Regardless, we can agree that a reduction of pollution is a good idea.  "Is there any doubt that whatever scientific models tell us about when and how the climate will be affected, the injection into the atmosphere of large quantities of greenhouse gases is not consistent with the virtue of prudence?"  

Here are some bits that might give you a good idea of what Rich is saying:
For too many Greens, the glass is always half empty.  In 2002, the EPA announced that two-thirds of America's rivers and half of its lakes had met the Clean Water Act goal of making U. S. waters fishable and swimmable.  Most environmental NGOs greeted this news by countering that a third of American rivers were too polluted to fish or swim in, choosing to see the glass as one-third empty, instead of two-thirds full.  They missed the opportunity to inspire Americans with the remarkable fact that after a century of treating rivers as open sewers, we had managed in only thirty years to return two-thirds of them to fishable and swimmable condition....The habit of pessimism has proven hard to break. (p113-114)

Right-wing critics are not the only ones to detect that Green values can appear indifferent to human needs.  Testifying in support of the spotted owl, the chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy gazed at the loggers and their families in the back of the room and experienced an epiphany: as described by the New Yorker, the scientist realized that "if you saw nature as having unlimited and unquantifiable rights and humans as having none, you turned environmentalism into a form of class warfare." (p164-165)
When I finished this book, I did think there was one large omission.  Rich says nothing whatsoever about genetically modified crops, and I wondered why.  So I visited his website, subscribed to his blog, and found out that in fact he's working on a book that will be entirely about that issue, which explains why it's not in Getting to Green.  I'm looking forward to that one.

2 comments:

MH said...

Interesting review...I'll be looking into this book (and author). I live in Washington state, where environmentalism is a particularly prevalent topic. It's astounding, however, that we can't even make progress on areas of common ground - like the huge quantities of litter. If only we could focus on those "small" wins, we might be able to work up together to the bigger issues.

Kristen M. said...

I'm reading climate change books and news a lot right now and I'm blown away by the politicizing of things that shouldn't be partisan. Very frustrating. Even more frustrating though is the wholesale trashing of even the small progress we've made solely because one idiot can't do a single bit of reading or research for himself. Blah.