April 27, 2009
The Green Bubble, Why Environmentalism Keeps Imploding
In this week's New Republic, Ted and Michael argue that the green bubble has popped -- and that's a good thing. Characterized by both fear of the apocalypse and the desire for transcendence, the green cultural moment that began with "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006 and ended in the Great Recession of 2009 carried in it a dark, anti-modern impulse that liberals and progressives need to abandon if we are to create a politics grounded in prosperity, freedom, democracy.
Sometime after the release of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, environmentalism crossed from political movement to cultural moment. Fortune 500 companies pledged to go carbon neutral. Seemingly every magazine in the country, including Sports Illustrated, released a special green issue. Paris dimmed the lights on the Eiffel Tower. Solar investments became hot, even for oil companies. Evangelical ministers preached the gospel of "creation care." Even archconservative Newt Gingrich published a book demanding action on global warming.
Green had moved beyond politics. Gestures that were once mundane--bringing your own grocery bags to the store, shopping for secondhand clothes, taking the subway--were suddenly infused with grand significance. Actions like screwing in light bulbs, inflating tires, and weatherizing windows gained fresh urgency. A new generation of urban hipsters, led by Colin Beavan, a charismatic writer in Manhattan who had branded himself "No Impact Man," proselytized the virtues of downscaling--dumpster-diving, thrift-store shopping, and trading in one's beater car for a beater bike--while suburban matrons proudly clutched copies of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and came to see the purchase of each $4 heirloom tomato at the farmer's market as an act of virtue.
For those caught up in the moment, the future seemed to promise both apocalypse and transcendence in roughly equal measure. The New York Times and San Francisco magazine ran long feature stories on the uptick of upper-middle- class professionals who worried to their therapists about polar bears or who dug through the trash cans of co-workers to recycle plastic bottles, as though suffering from a kind of eco-OCD. At the same time, folks like Pollan and Beavan provided a vision of green living that seemed to offer not just a smaller carbon footprint but a better life. Amid the fear was the hope that the ecological crisis would bring us together and make us happier.
And then, almost as quickly as it had inflated, the green bubble burst.
Read the rest here