The challenge to the environmental movement
Dear Bjorn 1st September 2001
I welcome your challenge to the environmental movement. There is too much self-righteousness and, indeed, self-satisfaction within the green ghetto. Unchallenged ideas always become tired and irrelevant. Your book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, has been written to dispel a collection of false beliefs propagated by greens, a collection you call “the litany.” The core of your argument is that this combines with four other factors to cause “a disjunction between perception and reality,” which you have set out to remedy. The four other factors are: lopsided scientific research; the need of environmental groups to generate revenues; the media’s preoccupation with bad news and something you call “poor individual perception.”
The trouble is that the litany you describe is a caricature of your own creation, which is perhaps why you cite a science fiction writer as its most compelling exponent.
It is true that some environmentalists play on people’s fears in order to generate headlines and revenues. But, in doing so, they are only following a well-trodden path established by the business world and those seeking political office. Wrongs never add up to rights and I would certainly prefer to live in a world with a more rational public discourse but, sadly, this is no easier to find than the one lived in by better people.
It is, however, a gigantic leap of logic to go from here to the idea that the whole environmental community, of some tens of millions of professional and volunteer members, has colluded in a conspiracy with the mass media to gull most people into thinking the environment is in a much worse state than it actually is. There is indeed an environmental litany. It is a litany of tragedy. It reads: DDT, Bhopal, Torrey Canyon, Sveso, Exxon Valdez, Flixborough, CFCs, Chernobyl, BSE…
These are not words that people have written, but events that have happened. These events, and many more, were brought to the public’s attention by the carelessness or ignorance of businesses and governments, not by environmentalists. In my 30 years as an environmentalist, nothing I or my colleagues have ever said or written has had as much influence on the public as these events.
The central thrust of your argument is that environmentalists, and Lester Brown in particular, have ignored the dramatically rising trajectory of human wellbeing throughout the 20th century, in…