Mann, in a long new piece in the Atlantic, talks about doing a better job of communicating climate change. As author of "1491" and "1493," he's arguably a climate historian in small part, therefore has a legitimate "standing" to talk.
That said, first, a few concerns. No. 1, I think to some degree he overestimates the willingness to dialogue of many deniers, "skeptics," and people halfway in that neighborhood.
That said, he's right to note that putting this issue in terms of economics and cost-benefit analysis is bound to fail, because how can we price out something like, say, being unable to grow corn in Texas in 2100, at least like we do today? That itself doesn't go far enough. It still buys into the neoliberal conceit that everything is reducible to cost-benefit analysis.
Example 1? This, about leading "New Environmentalism" neoliberal William Nordhaus:
Nordhaus provides graphs (!) showing how a gradually increasing tax—or, possibly, a market in emissions permits—would slowly and steadily ratchet down global carbon-dioxide output. The problem, as he admits, is that the projected reduction “assumes full participation.” Translated from econo-speak, “full participation” means that the Earth’s rich and populous nations must simultaneously apply the tax. Brazil, China, France, India, Russia, the United States—all must move in concert, globally cooperating.
Where does, say, Yellowstone National Park fit into that? If it does, it's a lot more pricey than Nordhaus will admit, if the Colorado River basin is worth as much as $500 billion — per year. More from High Country News, here, on how that was derived. Also from HCN, what price do you put on still-traditional Alaska Natives traditional style of life?
That said, the piece isn't all bad. And, the "good" part, per the first paragraph and the header, is near the bottom.
But, there's more than that.
This graf, which shows that environmentalism wasn't always liberal, is our real starting point:
The bet demonstrated little about the environment but much about environmental politics. The American landscape first became a source of widespread anxiety at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially, the fretting came from conservatives, both the rural hunters who established the licensing system that brought back white-tailed deer from near-extinction and the Ivy League patricians who created the national parks. So ineradicable was the conservative taint that decades later, the left still scoffed at ecological issues as right-wing distractions. At the University of Michigan, the radical Students for a Democratic Society protested the first Earth Day, in 1970, as elitist flimflam meant to divert public attention from class struggle and the Vietnam War; the left-wing journalist I. F. Stone called the nationwide marches a “snow job.” By the 1980s, businesses had realized that environmental issues had a price tag. Increasingly, they balked. Reflexively, the anticorporate left pivoted; Earth Day, erstwhile snow job, became an opportunity to denounce capitalist greed.
And, from there, we move to the worries about "socialism." As someone who often votes for Green Party candidates, but isn't a registered Green, I think Mann is about 60 percent right.
The so-called "Gang Green" environmentalists got in bed with industry after Bill Clinton's election, after all.
But, beyond the idea that modern environmentalism is a new socialism, maybe Mann is right that it's a new Puritanism.
He focuses on Bill McKibben, rimshotting off Paul Ehrlich of 1970s fame.
To stoke concern, eco-campaigners like Bill McKibben still resort, Ehrlich-style, to waving a skeleton at the reader. Thus the first sentence of McKibben’sOil and Honey, a memoir of his climate activism, describes 2011–12, the period covered by his book, as “a time when the planet began to come apart.” Already visible “in almost every corner of the earth,” climate “chaos” is inducing “an endless chain of disasters that will turn civilization into a never-ending emergency response drill.”
The only solution to our ecological woes, McKibben argues, is to live simpler, more local, less resource-intensive existences—something he believes is already occurring.
Poppycock, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner in effect replies in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse. A best-selling, telegenic public intellectual (a species that hardly exists in this country), Bruckner is mainly going after what he calls “ecologism,” of which McKibbenites are exemplars. At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flagellating asceticism.
To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive. Ethnocentric because eco-denunciations of capitalism simply give new, green garb to the long-standing Euro-American fear of losing dominance over the developing world (whose recent growth derives, irksomely, from fossil fuels).
Back to the neo-Puritan angle, though.
While we don't need 2 billion sub-Saharan Africans lusting after 8 ounces of beef a day from farting, belching, climate-damaging cows, there is, much more than with China, the issue of asking others to wear the hair shirt. That's especially true because, perhaps even more than with Peak Oil, we stand to lose more than them from climate change.
"Puritanism" isn't a perfect comparison. That said, to the degree it works, actual Puritanism promised an eternal payoff to its devotees, as did/do Catholic flagellationist movements. A secular Puritanism doesn't even offer that; all it offers is the moral self-satisfaction of the Puritan thought process.
A single country could geo-engineer the whole planet by itself. Or one country’s geo-engineering could set off conflicts with another country—a Chinese program to increase its monsoon might reduce India’s monsoon. “Both are nuclear weapons states,” (David) Keith reminds us.
Update, Sept. 26: Naomi Klein's new book may be somewhat over the top in this area, too. That said, so is at least some criticism of it.
Example No. 1 of that? Will Boisvert of The Breakthrough.
At the same time, I do not totally look forward to the new generation of Earth Firsters. A "muscular" environmentalism should have carefully delineated stages of escalation, and should never undertake actions that could harm other humans; no tree spiking. Also, environmentalism comes first; anarchism can sit way in the back of the bus, just like it should have done in the Occupy movement. (Lord, spare environmentalism from a Black Bloc type of infiltration.)