When E.O. Wilson said "people would rather believe than know", he perfectly summed up modern environmentalism; the movement which has been radicalised to the extent that its policies are now better described as anti-science, anti-business and even anti-human; not pro-environment.
Environmentalism's gradual shift to extremism didn't happen unaided; it was led astray by the green lobby - the NGOs, advocacy organisations and political groups who use environmental motives to enact legislation favourable to their own goals. Today, the green lobby is a dominant force in politics, despite few voters choosing to elect 'green' politicians.
Much of the green lobby's success stems from its ability to demonise and brand opponents as heretics, even if their arguments are based on verifiable evidence. Through their 'hearts and minds' campaigns centred on perceived environmental injustices, the green lobby uses 'sexy' catastrophe theories to bombard us with predictions of ecological collapse. They warn us that there is no time for debate; that radical and swift action is necessary to avoid environmental apocalypse. Add a celebrity backer and you have campaign gold - who could argue against environmental experts like Brian May or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall?
Whilst such sensationalist crusades may evoke the 'spirit of the underdog', they ignore important technical issues and economic implications. This misguided green propaganda has now taken root in the media, political fora and among the general public. It has clouded our perception of what is natural; we believe in the sustainability of wind farms but think deforestation signifies environmental apocalypse. Yet anyone educated in ecology will confirm that there is more biodiversity in a recently cut forest than in a concrete-laden wind farm.
The honest, well-meaning intentions of true environmentalists have been hijacked by those who have vested interests in green products. This is why the word 'green' has (wrongly) become synonymous with 'good'. We forget that it is not a technical or scientific term; we don't measure anything on a scale of 'green-ness'. It is a marketing buzzword used to promote 'environmentally-friendly' services and products. It isn't used science journals or ecological studies, but is widely accepted because being 'green' is now part of pop culture.
For many, modern environmentalism is simply a fashion statement - even former Green Party Chair Jonathon Porrit agreed that environmentalism has spent 30 years going in and out of fashion. For others, environmentalism is a route to self-abnegation or self-aggrandisement; it is the same as volunteering to feel good, especially if we only have to drive a Prius and take our own bags to Tesco. However, this 'aesthetic environmentalism' is a sham. What if we had to do without smartphones, or survive with eight hours of electricity per day - would we be so green then?
Such green tokenism will never offset the massive alterations of nature that we have partly caused. Who actually believes that a lot of small windmills will stop global warming? Sure, some environmental campaigns bring important, forgotten issues to the public domain and achieve environmental protection where there was previously none, but many also come with negative socio-economic or environmental consequences.
This green hypocrisy is largely a result of 'groupthink' - the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making. Green groupthink has flourished because, blinded by planet-saving romanticism, the environmental movement dogmatically adheres to the one-sided propaganda peddled by the green lobby, without questioning it.
Politicians are partly to blame for allowing green groupthink run rampant. Environmental problems allow them to be seen as 'a voice for the voiceless' and with re-election never far away, the insatiable desire to win votes trumps effective policymaking.
Environmentalist agendas must be reconfigured. Life on earth has flourished for an unfathomable timeframe. It isn't about to vanish anytime soon. Nevertheless, we do have impacts so we must be environmentally conscious. Some specific practices should be banned - dumping waste in rivers and seas and nuclear testing - but in many cases, zero-tolerance demands for outright bans are completely illogical; they merely flatter the gullible and exploit the well-intentioned.
Many issues would be more effectively dealt with by taking a balanced approach and advocating campaigns for reform. Environmentalism is counter-productive if it is anti-development and undermines economies. We can't regress to being hunting and gathering cave-dwellers. Our only option involves constantly developing new practices and better technologies to meet our needs, whilst reducing our negative environmental impacts.
A sense of urgency is also necessary, but hysterical, knee-jerk reactions help no-one. Decisions must be based on solid, logical, scientific information - not hype, dogma or political agendas. Former US President Ronald Reagan wasn't known as an environmentalist, but appositely said that "preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense". It is time to get sensible. It is time to know rather than believe.
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