There’s an age-old debate playing out among climate hawks today: Do you win environmental battles by fighting against something or fighting for something?
Grist’s David Roberts had a thought-provoking piece on the issue yesterday, lamenting the oppositional tactics of enviros:
And as a substantive matter, oppositionalism is a woefully insufficient approach to climate change mitigation and/or adaptation. Most of what’s needed to respond to climate change involves building sh*t — new power systems, new transportation systems, new sustainable communities, new models of finance and ownership. If it ever happens, it will be a “third industrial revolution.” You don’t get one of those by stopping things.
Roberts raises some good points. And as someone who’s tried to fall on the side of positive messaging when writing about these issues, I agree with the basic premise.
But there’s a major issue that he leaves out: Enviros and other supporters of action already tried the strategy of “let’s build shit” to solve climate change – and it hasn’t worked out terribly well politically in the U.S. (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“)
Admittedly, that is likely a result of failed tactics, not the strategy itself.
In the few years leading up to the climate bill in Congress, the environmental community switched gears, linking up with business to tell a positive story about the economic potential for clean energy and combating climate change.
However, as Congress developed a climate bill in 2008 and 2009, there was remarkably little mention about climate – with advocates instead choosing to talk exclusively about green jobs and economic competitiveness. That worked. Until it didn’t.
Three years after the climate bill imploded, we are further away from taking action on climate change than ever. One of the reasons is that fossil fuel proponents have shifted the narrative on jobs and competitiveness due to the boom in unconventional oil and gas.
You want to build shit? Why not build a bunch of shale oil rigs, fracking wells, and tar sands pipelines?