Quote, August 16 2012 – All politics is local; if it’s a matter of keeping yourself and your family fed and alive, it’s really local

environmentalism is a luxury good. People must survive and they will survive by any means necessary. . . .

Politics in an age of survival is ugly and practical. It has to be. The best leader is the one who can cut out all the fluff and the folderol and keep you alive through the winter. During the Battle of Leningrad, people burned priceless antiques to stay alive for just one more night.

An age of energy shortages and high prices translates into an age of radical food and economic insecurity for billions of people. Those billions of hungry, frightened, angry people won’t fold their hands and meditate on the ineffable wonders of Gaia and her mystic web of life as they pass peacefully away. . . . They will butcher every panda in the zoo before they see their children starve, they will torch every forest on earth before they freeze to death, and the cheaper and the meaner their lives are, the less energy or thought they will spare to the perishing world around them.

– Walt Russell Mead, “The Energy Revolution 4: Hot Planet?”, Via Meadia, July 28 2012 (site last accessed August 16 2012)

Mead’s article “The Energy Revolution 4: Hot Planet?” has a lot of things to say that a lot of people won’t like to read.

To sum up the parts that a lot of people (especially a lot of people I used to talk to in the Pacific Northwest) are going to find objectionable: people will always put themselves and their families first. It is human nature, especially when you are dealing with very day-to-day and immediate concerns like food, clothing, shelter and heat.

Protecting the environment is a good thing. Being so concerned with protecting it that you lost sight of the motivations and concerns you are inconveniencing with your protections is not a good thing.

Here’s another quote from the article:

It has long been clear to students of history, and has more recently begun to dawn on many environmentalists, that all that happy-clappy carbon treaty stuff was a pipe dream and that nothing like that is going to happen.  A humanity that hasn’t been able to ban the bomb despite the clear and present dangers that nuclear weapons pose isn’t going to ban or even seriously restrict the internal combustion engine and the generator.

Again, it isn’t that protecting the environment is a bad thing — it’s not a bad thing. But we humans are limited and mortal — seeing our friends and family wasting away due to starvation or disease will displace any larger concerns about whether the tuna we’re eating was caught with dolphin-safe nets, or whether the apes they caught in the jungle for meat are endangered or might be contaminated with Ebola. When you are starving, food is food.

for people who base their claim to world leadership on their superior understanding of the dynamics of complex systems, greens prove over and over again that they are surprisingly naive and crude in their ability to model and to shape the behavior of the political and economic systems they seek to control. If their understanding of the future of the earth’s climate is anything like as wish-driven, fact-averse and intellectually crude as their approach to international affairs, democratic politics and the energy market, the greens are in trouble indeed.  And as I’ve written in the past, the contrast between green claims to understand climate and to be able to manage the largest and most complex set of policy changes ever undertaken, and the evident incompetence of greens at managing small (Solyndra) and large (Kyoto, EU cap and trade, global climate treaty) political projects today has more to do with climate skepticism than greens have yet understood. Many people aren’t rejecting science; they are rejecting green claims of policy competence. In doing so, they are entirely justified by the record.

I went looking for the source of the quote about politics being the art of the possible, but instead ran across John Kenneth Galbraith‘s quote “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists of choosing between the disastrous and unpalatable.” While that’s a fairly grim way of looking at it, I think it achieves more to look at it that way, say to yourself “it is what it is” and try to make the best of what is, rather than try to re-order the world in a way that it either never was or never will be again, and that is entirely contrary to human nature.

And I’d highly recommend reading all of Mead’s article, it is overall very optimistic and hopeful, as increased energy resources from shale oil and fracking mean that more people will have the luxury of trying to mitigate the environmental effects, instead of “torch[ing] every forest on earth before they freeze to death”.

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