When is positive thinking magical thinking?
When environmental ‘pragmatists’ accuse organizations of being to pessimistic and dire in their projections of consumptive consequences.
One of my professors at American University is a senior writer and member of the Breakthrough Institute, an organization which promotes alternative ways of viewing and promoting issues which impact the environment, from energy usage (they are heavy promoters of nuclear power) to sustainability (Roger Pielke Jr. says greenies are “keeping the poor poor”).
This is their website: http://www.thebreakthrough.org/
The founders, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, are well-known advocates who wrote an essay attacking traditional frames from environmental groups here back in 2003 which you can read here:
Since then, they’ve written books and publicly denounced the doomsday-scenarios associated with climate change and environmental devastation. Recently they wrote an op-ed in the NY Times, attacking the new show “Years of Living Dangerously” for playing up scare tactics, which you can read here:
(I found the show pretty awful, but for entirely different reasons. I think it’s aimed at moderate-left baby boomers to donate money to Democrats for the midterm elections, but I don’t want to go into that right now).
There are other people who have embraced a pro-growth environmental viewpoint, including the authors of “Cradle to Cradle”, Michael Braungart and William McDonough, who have apparently abandoned their original criticism of western down-cycling in favor of pie in the sky, praising the “eco-friendly” Wal-Mart in their new book “The Upcycle” which came out this year. Author Amy Larkin similarly advocates working together with large corporations in her book “Environmental Debt.”
But Nordhaus and Shellenberger are relatively unique in their attempts to separate themselves from traditional environmentalism.
Indeed, there has been a massive failure for environmental groups to motivate the public, and there is enough blame to go around to bounce back to the environmentalists themselves. And it seems the more an organization wishes to have an impact on the national level, the more it must moderate its message and outcomes until they are politically salient.
I would love to see a study about this; almost all issue-advocates seem to follow this curve, leveling out at some comparatively moderate position in order to better promote change and bring more people into the fold. Amazingly I saw this with an issue as seemingly uncontroversial as autism awareness, when working for the “Legislative Gazette” in Albany NY. Smaller groups were extremely critical of “Autism Speaks” for selling out on legislation, but “Autism Speaks” proudly maintained that their work across party lines was getting more done to help autistic children than anyone else, and that’s probably true.
But back to climate change: it’s great to try and work within the existing power structure to try and effect change, and more importantly, it’s important to find new ways of engaging the public on this issue since they obviously don’t care, or otherwise 50% of Congress wouldn’t be denying the existence of anthropomorphic global warming.
But are environmentalists really to blame for not being cheerier? Are climate scientists hurting their cause with Debbie Downer graphical representations? Is Al Gore just a big poopy face with a hockey stick graph up his ass?
Are the protesters outside the White House correct when they declare they are winning the war against the Keystone pipeline? That every time small groups of native Americans and rich Georgetown students speak truth to power, the little guy wins? That history proves the good guys get what they want by default?
Let’s consider two scenarios, which hopefully illustrate why sometimes the glass really is half empty:
SCENARIO ONE: AT LEAST IT’S NOT CANCER
Hello! I am your friendly family doctor, Dakota McKee. The blood work from your latest physical is in, and I have some truly terrible news: you are HIV positive. Sooner or later, you’re going to get AIDS.
Now I know, you feel relatively fine. Sure, you may have been encountering some “stormier weather” up in your temples every now and then. Maybe you’re feeling a little warmer in and around your toes? You haven’t noticed it, but your white blood cell count has been in full retreat for quite a while now. We’ve ran numerous tests and been very thorough, and there is wide and near-unanimous consensus at Dorman Memorial Hospital that you are going to get AIDS.
Unfortunately, this means that your life is probably going to change in a big way. At the very least, your medical expenses are going to go up as we can recommend effective medication, which will greatly increase your chance of living normally, but you will have to take it for the rest of your life. I want to be realistic about this; you have support from the hospital, but be prepared for this to impact your relationships with other people and even those you love. Your era of cheap and abundant sex is probably over.
Please do not consult Dr. Inhofe on this issue. He will deny that your white cell levels have decreased, and then he will tell you that even if they have, it is due to allergies or Jesus or volcanoes. Dr. Inhofe will tell you that you can have all the unprotected sex you are entitled to because Dr. McKee is in league with the insurance companies and is just trying to rob you blind.
You can listen to him, but you will not only die within the year, but you will also infect other people as well.
For now, I would recommend you take a look at your options: conserve your energy, get your affairs in order. Assess what life changes you need to make. Maybe join a support group. I can even refer you to some.
I’m sure this is hard for you, but as your doctor, I would think an honest, objective assessment of your situation is preferable to….
SCENARIO TWO: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE AIDS
Hello! I am your friendly family doctor, Dakota McKee, and I have AMAZING NEWS. Your lab results have turned up a real doozie, and it looks like this past physical is going to be your most eventful yet! Remember when you said you were more sexually active? Well guess what?!?! You have AIDS!
This is a tremendous opportunity for you.
First of all, you can use this as an opportunity to rally friends and family around you in support of your cause. People are going to start paying attention to you in a way they never did before. Your parents and family are going to be extremely sympathetic. Your friends are going to fall over themselves to demonstrate their relationship with you isn’t any different and they totally don’t judge you. Some of them will even be in awe of your secretly inspiring life that you never told them about!
You’re special! Embrace it! And feel the embrace of your loved ones. Milk it! And don’t forget to thank the person who infected you!
Finally this is the chance you’ve been waiting for to use disability laws and discrimination laws to make sure you either never have to work at a job you don’t want, or maybe even never have to work again!
You have a chance to BUILD something. Having AIDS means you can now help develop the burgeoning AIDS industry: medication! Hair pieces! Quilts! “RENT” revivals! Chocolate! Condoms! Condoms?
Stop having sex? Now you can have all the sex you want! Think about it; the only reason NOT to have sex is because you might get AIDS, but now you already HAVE AIDS, so who cares? I mean, your partners might care, but it’s your life, don’t let anyone tell you how to live it. As long as sex is consensual, why is it your responsibility to tell anyone? You can write off the cost of infecting other people as an EXTERNALITY.
Whatever you do, don’t listen to those downers. Old man grumpus Dr. Hansen just wants to tell you how depressing your situation is. He just wants you to stay inside and limit your growth as a human being. This is not about limiting growth. Research tells us depressing news just makes you anxious and combative. Unproductive. Unresponsive.
I want you to respond to the news you have AIDS by becoming a better you. A more active you. A TRUER you.
So celebrate! Fuck those white blood cells, you can live without ’em! Your vital organs are for YOU to use for YOUR PLEASURE. Do they really provide an essential function? If so, why do so many people live without kidneys, lungs, or appendices? What’s the difference between your appendix and your immune system? Anything that causes you pain is just a nuisance. Anyway, if we just pump you up with enough nitrous oxide particulate matter (let’s call it a ‘bio-engineering’ project) you won’t feel a thing!
Have a GREAT day!