Twilight of Environmental Idols

The problem with environmentalism is not simply that it isn't up to the task of building a low-carbon future but that it is actively obstructing that future.

Twilight of Environmental Idols

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom and the progressive Democratic legislature have reversed plans to close the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, over the monolithic opposition of the state’s powerful environmental community. In Washington, Congress has passed sweeping legislation directing investment to everything from advanced nuclear energy to carbon capture and removal technologies to clean hydrogen production, with nary a mention of carbon caps, regulations, or pricing, long the North Star of green climate advocacy. Meanwhile, political battles with environmentalists loom—over environmental permitting reforms in Congress and over nuclear licensing reforms at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These fights will likely determine whether the United States will be able to deploy the technology and infrastructure necessary to deeply cut emissions in a timely fashion.

Almost two decades ago, I coauthored an essay called the Death of Environmentalism that foresaw much of this, arguing that modern environmentalism had become a special interest that would prove incapable of advancing effective action to address climate change. If it seems like ancient history to many who came of age in the years after the controversy that the Death of Environmentalism sparked, it is a history, and an idea, worth revisiting today.

The Death of Environmentalism hypothesis will no doubt seem counterintuitive to many because contemporary environmentalism has, at one level, so comprehensively won. Elite institutions and discourse, whether in the media, the corporate boardroom, or university classrooms, uniformly pay obeisance to environmentalism, parroting both its catastrophism and its certainty that an inevitable transition to renewable energy is already underway.

But in a more important sense it has lost. The movement has largely abandoned longstanding demands to regulate, cap, or heavily tax carbon emissions. Ecological politics is fine as long as someone else is paying the bill. Not so much when the cost shows up on utility bills. Protests, school strikes, and extremely online activism have proven no match for even modest upticks in energy prices. And even when environmentalism’s one party political strategy succeeds, it requires its allies in the Democratic Party to reframe the agenda in social and economic terms that much of the movement is at bottom hostile towards.

Meanwhile, despite generalized demands for climate action and narrow advocacy for a few favored green technologies, the environmental movement at both the grassroots and institutional level is gearing up to obstruct critical efforts to fast track the commercialization and build out of critical low carbon technology and infrastructure, with even progressive Democrats in Washington and California forced to tacitly acknowledge that environmentalism has lost its way on key issues critical to the energy transition.

Today, the problem with environmentalism is not simply that it is not up to the task of building a low carbon future but that it is actively obstructing that future.

The Trouble With The “Environment”

At the core of the Death of Environmentalism thesis was the problem of putting an unscientific concept called the environment at the core of one’s politics. The environment, the essay argued, is either a poor synonym for “everything,” or a deeply unscientific idea that nature is both something separate from people and also has definable interests that can be represented by human institutions.

What might at first seem an academic or semantic concern is not that at all. The problems that flow from centering policy and activism around the environment have real, and often troubling implications. It is easy, for instance, to see how a movement that claims to speak for nature in politics might be prone to naturalizing its political claims. This has been apparent from the earliest post-war days of the modern environmental movement, when environmental scientists posited that population was exceeding the capacity of agriculture to feed the world and that resource constraints would limit global growth, development, and industrialization.

Dubious scientific claims were made in service of extraordinarily cruel and regressive policies. Paul Ehrlich, who championed population control, advocated cutting off food aid to poor countries and the overpopulation panic he inspired led to forced sterilization policies in some parts of the world. The limits to growth hypothesis led many to valorize poverty—for the global poor, of course, not themselves. Most might not have explicitly endorsed “lifeboat ethics” but many came to oppose further global development and industrialization at the moment when the global poor were just beginning to benefit from it.

Nor have these impulses receded, as evidenced by contemporary claims of planetary boundaries, demands for degrowth, and threats of human extinction. All use science as a proxy for nature while grounding their political demands in claims of scientific authority.

It is also easy enough to see how institutions that claim to represent a thing called the environment—something that must be protected from human intrusion and disruption—might easily be captured by privileged interests that actually want to wall off nature for themselves. From their 19th century origins in John Muir’s Yosemite to their gestation in early 20th century suburban retreat to the creation of wilderness areas in which only activities favored by leisure class environmentalists are allowed, appeals to protect nature for its intrinsic value have frequently meant protecting nature for me and not for thee. Contemporary NIMBY resistance to housing, transportation, and energy infrastructure is a direct descendent of this legacy, deploying both well trodden tropes about nature and the environment and the legal tools created by the environmental movement to defend privilege and exclude everyone else.

Likewise, monolithic opposition to nuclear energy from the institutional environmental movement is not simply a glitch to be fixed through appeals to science and shared concern over apocalyptic climate futures, as some of my fellow travelers in the nuclear advocacy community imagine. It is part and parcel of a broader ideological notion that nature is harmonious and equilibrating until disturbed too much by humans, at which point it is tipped into disharmony, which inevitably leads to ecological, social, and economic collapse. Environmentalism’s insistence upon renewable energy, and hostility towards nuclear energy originates with this idea. Powering human civilization from natural energy flows—the sun, the wind, and the hydrological cycle—is definitionally sustainable. Modifying a fundamental unit of nature by splitting atoms and producing extrasomatic energy is not. Within this framework, developing nuclear energy must and will end badly, no matter what the evidence relating to nuclear safety, nuclear waste, or land use and resource efficiency says.

The entire edifice, of course, falls apart with just a bit of prodding. Nature has never been harmonious. Much of what we today call nature are in fact older manifestations of human perturbations. Humans have increasingly thrived materially as they have harnessed extrasomatic energies and modified their environments. And harnessing the sun and the wind globally, consistent with fully replacing fossil fuels, would require historically large transformations of landscapes and disruption of ecosystems at almost unimaginable planetary scale.

But it matters not a whit. At the heart of modern environmental identity and consciousness is an imaginary and utopian future, easily recognizable in contemporary iconography, of bucolic landscapes with low density housing in the foreground, agricultural lands teeming with wildlife and dotted with windmills and solar panels in the middle ground, and magnificent mountains, wilderness, and wild rivers in the background. Somewhere in this world there are cities and lithium mines, factories and sewage treatment plants. But they are literally not in the picture. Environmentalism, in this way, functions as a cognitive category as much as an ideology. At its heart is a prototype, an idealized picture of humans and nature in harmony. Everyone knows that the exceptions, the workarounds, the contradictions exist and are in fact determinative of how human societies will address global ecological challenges. But they are peripheral, literally and figuratively, to the political project. It is the prototype that animates the politics and the institutions.

In Defense of the Ancien Regime

In the years after its publication, some critics attacked the Death of Environmentalism thesis disingenuously. Some claimed that the essay advocated delaying climate action by focusing only on researching new energy technologies, others that the argument had made a strawman of environmentalists, who, they insisted, had always supported public investment in clean technologies. If these two arguments, often repeated by the same people, seem inconsistent, they were. But it hardly mattered to many, whose primary objective was to deflect and delegitimize the critique.

But many other critics, who quite accurately represented the argument and its implications, nonetheless took strong issue with it. At the core of this debate was the contention in the Death of Environmentalism that a climate agenda centered around public investment in clean technology and the short-term economic and social benefits that those investments offered would prove more successful than one centered on regulating or pricing emissions in the name of avoiding future climate catastrophes.

From this debate flowed several others. Do catastrophic framings of the problem provoke action or fatalism? Can regulating and pricing emissions, what the essay dubbed the “pollution paradigm,” drive the profound technological transformation of the global energy economy that mitigating climate change would require? Did we, as Al Gore famously argued, already have all the technologies we needed to tackle climate change? Should governments engage in what, at the time, even on the progressive left, was often derisively referred to as industrial policy? If so, should such policies be limited to simply subsidizing consumption of clean technology through tax credits and similar policies or did they require supply side interventions, to directly support the manufacturing and production of low carbon technology?

From these debates flowed still more. Could energy efficiency do the lion’s share of the work of decarbonizing the global economy? Was it feasible, practically if not theoretically, to power the world primarily with variable sources of renewable energy? What role, if any, should nuclear energy play in a low carbon global future?

The Death of Environmentalism debate, beginning with the essay’s publication in 2004 and running roughly through Obama’s first term, wasn’t the first time some of these issues had been raised. But it raised them to a new level of significance and attention, and it raised them together and in an increasingly coherent fashion. At the risk of a bit of hubris, I think it is fair to say that on almost every one of these issues, time has proven me, my colleagues at the Breakthrough Institute, and a small group of fellow travelers correct.

So correct, in fact, that it is easy enough to forget just how controversial many of those claims were when we first made them in the mid-2000s. The Death of Environmentalism was published just seven years after the signing of the Kyoto Accord. International efforts were gearing up to extend it at Copenhagen in 2009. Domestic efforts in the United States and Europe were overwhelmingly focused on establishing cap-and-trade programs to implement it. The leadership of the U.S. environmental community believed, virtually unanimously, that a forthcoming Democratic administration and Congress would reengage the Kyoto protocol and pass cap-and-trade legislation to implement it.

Energy efficiency was widely viewed as the “first fuel.” Dozens of studies, IPCC scenarios, and most notoriously, the McKinsey cost curve, claimed that much of the necessary reduction in global emissions could be achieved through low cost, or even below cost, energy efficiency measures. Sokolow and Pacala’s famous wedges analysis claimed that global warming could be limited to two degrees above preindustrial levels solely through the deployment of existing technologies. A few years later, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucci produced their first analysis claiming that not only could it be done with existing technology but entirely with renewable energy technology.

Insofar as there was much acknowledgement that clean energy technologies were often intermittent, too expensive, and did not even exist for many key sectors of the global economy, the dominant view in both the environmental and academic communities was that those technologies would materialize in response to some combination of regulations and carbon pricing.

Three iconic anecdotes provided the primary basis for this belief, the development of catalytic converters in response to the passage of the 1970 Federal Clean Air Act, the low cost mitigation of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides after the establishment of a cap-and-trade program to control acid rain through 1990 amendments to the Clear Air Act, and the success of the Montreal Protocol in eliminating ozone depleting chemicals. But catalytic converters were an extremely limited end-of-pipe solution. The low cost of acid rain mitigation was largely due to infrastructure investments predating the 1990 amendments which had made low sulfur coal widely available to much of the country. And claims that the agreement to phase out CFCs had resulted in the development of safe replacements conveniently reversed the actual order of events. It was DuPont’s development of a cheap and safe substitute that finally allowed for a global agreement, after a decade of fruitless negotiations.

In the face of this, the claim that industrial policy and direct public investment in clean technology, not carbon regulation or taxation, would be the main event—and the central strategy for addressing climate change—was deeply heretical and was typically greeted with eye rolling anecdotes about failed public energy initiatives from the 1970s such as synfuels, oil shales, and, ironically, at a moment when the shale gas revolution was about to transform the U.S. energy economy, massive hydraulic fracturing.

Our call for billions in public investment to develop, demonstrate, and deploy clean energy technology sparked what has become known as the “innovation versus deployment” debate, an argument among policy wonks that has dragged on for years, even as its terms have completely shifted. In its original manifestation, Joseph Romm, a former Department of Energy official and and very prominent Democratic climate advocate and blogger at the Center for American Progress, repeatedly mischaracterized and attacked our call for sustained investment in research, demonstration, and deployment of clean technology as a delaying tactic to support research and development only, while arguing that the key to cheap clean energy was through the establishment of a high price on carbon.

Today, by contrast, the debate pits those who emphasize continuing efforts to develop better technology through research, development, and demonstration against those who emphasize deploying current technology, mostly wind and solar energy. Notably, and despite claims that environmentalists had always supported industrial policy to deploy clean technology, the deployment side of that debate, in both its original and present day iterations, has always overwhelmingly focused on demand-side interventions - pricing, tax credits and renewable portfolio standards. The result, even when those policies have succeeded, has been the outsourcing of clean tech production - both its impacts, in terms of mining, processing, and industrial pollution, and its benefits, in terms of economic development and jobs - to other places, mostly China - a development that we were among the first to anticipate.

Tellingly, both positions in the contemporary debate were encompassed in our original framework, which called for sustained investments in research, development, demonstration, and deployment of low carbon technology. Meanwhile, neither side in the contemporary innovation versus deployment debate much focuses on pricing or regulation as the necessary lever to drive either deployment or innovation.

Indeed, the carbon pricing orthodoxy that defined climate policy and advocacy efforts for a generation has today largely retreated back from whence it came, to the economics departments of prestigious universities. While a certain class of credentialed policy expert continues to pay obeisance to the notion that taxing carbon is the simplest and most efficient mechanism for reducing emissions, a notion that has always been more theoretical than demonstrated, most now acknowledge that basic political realities have foreclosed the possibility and insofar as they haven’t, any pricing strategy that might be implemented would be so modest as to hardly be worth the fight.

Part of this turn away from carbon pricing orthodoxy has been the serial failure of efforts to establish significant pricing policies in most places. And part of it is due to the failure of those policies to make much difference where they have been established. But as much as either of these factors, the turn away from pricing has been due to the success of innovation, investment, and industrial policy. Against claims that significant emissions mitigation could not succeed without a price on carbon, emissions have fallen significantly across most developed, technologically advanced economies over the last 15 years, primarily due to decades of public investment in nuclear, solar, wind, natural gas, and energy efficiency and without a significant or explicit price on carbon in most places.

Environmentalism’s Last Stand

If there is one shibboleth that has not yet fallen, it is the conceit that alarmism and protest is necessary to advance meaningful climate policy. Arguably, the most contentious claim in the original Death of Environmentalism essay was that reorienting climate politics around efforts to build a clean energy economy, rather than avoiding the end of the world, would prove a more compelling politics.

In the years since, much of the climate movement has instead chosen to ratchet up catastrophic framings of climate change. Indeed, in the weeks following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, many prominent champions of this strategy argued that climate activism, inspired by such framings, was largely responsible for the victory. The claim was risible on multiple levels. U.S. President Joe Biden, alone among the Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination, had largely resisted the demands of the climate movement. His initial framing of his climate and infrastructure package, Build Back Better, came right out of the Death of Environmentalism playbook, promising to rebuild an American economy decimated by the COVID pandemic through investments in clean energy technology and infrastructure.

For a period after taking office, Biden veered away from that framing, as was the case with much else in the first year of his presidency. During this time, his agenda stalled and his popularity collapsed. Insofar as extreme climate alarm was motivating either Biden or the climate movement, the result was to undermine climate action. As Biden’s approval ratings tanked, the climate movement and their progressive Democratic champions in Congress obstreperously refused to take yes for an answer, repeatedly shooting down proposals from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin that offered substantially greater investment in climate and clean energy than the deal that the movement ultimately accepted and now takes credit for.

But the catastrophic framings of climate change that ostensibly motivate the climate movement proved to have little broader political valence. Indeed, it took Manchin threatening to kill the entire package, and then reorienting it to better address public concerns about the economy and inflation to get the package over the finish line.

Meanwhile, the claim that ever more apocalyptic framings of the issue and outraged protest are what has made action possible ignore the history of the turn toward those tactics in the first place. Against claims that IRA represented the first major federal action to address climate change, the Obama administration passed quite similar policies in 2009 in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which invested somewhere in the neighborhood of $150-200 billion, depending on how and what one counts, into clean technology and infrastructure. Like IRA, ARRA invested billions in clean energy in the name of creating jobs and promoting economic growth.

The Obama administration then turned its attention to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, which failed to even reach the floor of the U.S. Senate and, with the benefit of hindsight, would have established a cap on emissions that is still, 13 years later, well above actual U.S. emissions. Many of the same environmental leaders who now tout IRA as transformative dismissed ARRA as hardly worth celebrating and claimed that the failure of Waxman-Markey, which advocates had absurdly attempted to sell as a jobs and economic recovery package, proved that reorienting climate policy and advocacy around the benefits of investing in a clean energy future had proved a failed strategy.

And so, the leadership of the climate movement set about building a grassroots movement powerful enough to establish carbon regulations in the future. Grassroots activism, of course, had long been a key feature of environmental advocacy. The enormous green stimulus investments in ARRA were in large part a realization of work initiated by the Apollo Alliance, which had brought an effective coalition of non-environmental interests, labor unions, regional economic development advocates, the green jobs movement, and others, to the table with environmentalists to advocate for public investment to build a clean and prosperous economy.

The post-Waxman-Markey effort, by contrast, was something entirely different and was predicated upon protest, demonizing fossil fuel production, and shifting claims of looming climate apocalypse from the future to the present. Activists, academics, and environmental philanthropists, drawing lessons from the anti-tobacco campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, launched a well-organized and funded effort to reframe climate change as a conspiracy by the fossil fuel industry to prevent regulation of carbon emissions, just as cigarette companies had opposed restrictions on smoking. The effort encompassed major investigative journalism projects, lawsuits against oil companies, and campaigns to withdraw the “social license” of fossil fuels.

Activist scientists invented a new field of climate attribution, designed explicitly to allow mainstream news reporting to attribute every extreme weather event or climate related natural disaster to climate change. Meanwhile, journalists produced sensational stories for elite publications with titles like “Losing Earth,” “The Terrifying Warning Lurking In The Earth’s Ancient Rock Record,” and “Uninhabitable Earth,” that uncritically repeated the apocalyptic claims of the climate movement.

The climate movement organized mass protests, bussing activists from around the country to New York and Washington, DC to march for climate action, and turned obscure infrastructure projects like the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines into “planet killing” household names. Green campaigners demonized “fracking” and natural gas, even as the shale gas revolution was driving the collapse of the coal industry and U.S. emissions fell to levels not seen since before the negotiation of the Kyoto Accord.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel divestment campaigns, modeled on campaigns to divest from apartheid South Africa, swept across college campuses and “Fridays for the Future” and the Sunrise Movement became coming of age staples for socially aware youth, at least in the sorts of places where high schools offer AP environmental studies courses and therapists specialize in treating climate anxiety.

None of this was spontaneous. While the movement, aided by its academic and media allies, maintained a public image of plucky underdogs fighting fossil fueled corporate overlords, billions of dollars flowed from environmental philanthropies into green activist efforts.

Any estimation of the efficacy of catastrophizing climate activism over the last decade, then, should firstly evaluate that effort based on its own standards: namely, and quite explicitly, that protest and alarmism about the consequences of climate change would create political conditions that would allow for significant national regulation or pricing of carbon. This was what the leadership of the movement meant when they concluded, despite historically large investments in clean energy in ARRA, that Obama’s climate agenda had failed with the collapse of Waxman-Markey and the abandonment of his Clean Power Plan. And it is what they meant as recently as a year ago as they insisted upon “no climate, no deal,” demanding that Congress not pass any infrastructure or reconciliation package that failed to include regulation of the power sector.

And by that standard, those efforts failed abysmally. In contrast to the Obama administration, the Biden presidency never even proposed to regulate or price carbon. Nor did either the Democratic leadership in Congress or the self identified climate hawks in the progressive caucus. The closest Congress came to doing so was a convoluted Clean Energy Performance Program, which proposed to use tax policy to simulate a regulatory regime for clean energy deployment in the power sector.

A generous reading of this outcome concludes that Biden and Democrats didn’t propose significant emissions regulations because they didn’t have the votes to do so. But that concedes the point. When push came to shove, a decade of ever more alarming rhetoric and ever more vociferous demands failed to change the politics of climate change at all.

What a decade of catastrophizing protest has produced is equal parts fatalism and nihilism. Increasingly extreme rhetoric has been directly proportional to the movement’s increasing impotence. On one hand, leading climate advocates and scientists continued to insist that ever more dire warnings about the fate of the planet are necessary, even as they bemoan the growing scourge of “doomism.” On the other, many of the same leaders now insist that there is hardly any point in cutting emissions if those efforts fail to bring an end to capitalism or economic growth or corporate power.

After Environmentalism

With the passage of the IRA, one might think that the climate movement would be mobilizing to rapidly deploy all the clean technology and infrastructure that Congress has just committed hundreds of billions to build. Instead, the movement is mobilizing to stop it. “Look, I want to get carbon out of the atmosphere,” Jamie Henn, a cofounder of told Rolling Stone recently, “but this is such an opportunity to remake our society. But if we just perpetuate the same harms in a clean-energy economy, and it’s just a world of Exxons and Elon Musks—oh, man, what a nightmare.”

It is the sort of statement that Henn’s mentor, Bill McKibben, might have made a generation ago and that Paul Ehrlich or Amory Lovins might have made a generation before that. Erlich famously compared giving society cheap abundant energy to giving a child a machine gun. Lovins argued that discovering “a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy” would be disastrous, “because of what we would do with it.” Instead, Lovins argued, we should look to “energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other.”

The new climate activism sings from exactly the same psalm book. It is an old story, and despite rhetorical gestures toward equity, justice, and democracy, it should come as no surprise that the script for the new movement was largely written by McKibben, an old line New England conservationist at bottom, and launched from Middlebury College, a place that annually leads the nation in the percentage of students hailing from 1% households and that has carefully built its brand as the sort of place that outdoorsy jocks go after matriculating at prep schools and National Outdoor Leadership programs.

The legacy institutions and the new activists are in fact far less dissimilar than either might suggest. The green regulatory agenda is difficult to parse from green NIMBYism and green NIMBYism in turn from the utopian radicalism of the activist community. The NIMBY, after all, always claims there is a better place to build the project or a better way to solve the problem.

The politics of limits, in this way, abides even as the movement has largely abandoned efforts to directly regulate carbon emissions. A decade ago, greens insisted that the alternative energy systems needed to replace fossil energy would magically materialize once a cap or price on emissions was in place. Today they insist that it is more important to keep NEPA and other restrictions unchanged in order to stop fossil energy development, even if doing so impacts the deployment of clean alternatives, and that still more environmental review and community engagement will expedite rather than retard the deployment of green technologies.

When Henn speaks of “the opportunity to remake society,” what he means is not an opportunity to deploy technology and build physical infrastructure in a manner that might assure abundant clean energy for all. He means reorganizing society to operate within “safe planetary boundaries,” the latest in the long line of quasi-scientific and neo-malthusian concepts that greens have used to justify remaking society in their own gentrified image.

The demand is for social engineering, not physical or technological engineering. The objective is to equitably distribute scarce ecological resources, not break the chains that bind us to those resources. This is the through line that connects the Malthusian environmentalism of Erlich to the technocratic regulatory mindset that still dominates the institutional environmental movement to the catastrophizing utopianism of the new activists.

Green techno-optimism, as such, is not at all what it seems, restricting itself to only renewable energies, and explicitly rejecting all technology, whether nuclear, carbon capture, carbon removal, or even space-based solar power that would bring more energy into the terrestrial environment while opposing the infrastructure and production that would be necessary for the renewable powered future they ostensibly advocate to ever materialize. There is no serious commitment from either the institutional movement or the activists to expand mining and processing of metals and minerals, expedite the siting and construction of long-distance transmission, or build all of the pipes and industrial production that a hydrogen economy would require.

This is less a reflection of hypocrisy than the holism that sits at the center of environmental philosophy and culture, a theological view of nature in which all things are interconnected and nature functions in harmony and balance. Erhlich famously compared ecosystems to an airplane, in which each species represented a rivet, and once you removed too many rivets, the plane would crash. Years later, in an interview with the Stanford Report, he elaborated on the idea. "What difference does it make if we put a strip mall in here and this little fly goes extinct, or this little mouse goes extinct,” he asked. “Even though you don't know the value of each rivet, you know it's nuttier than hell to keep removing them,” he answered. “You have to reduce the scale of the human enterprise to have a chance at preventing that… If we let the infrastructure of nature go down the drain, then we just can't make up for it with human infrastructure.”

Except that today, the human infrastructure in question isn’t just strip malls. It includes wind farms, transmission lines, and nuclear power plants—all the kit that is actually required to address climate change and keep the natural infrastructure from going down the drain. These facts simply cannot compute within the contemporary environmental canon. Once you are foundationally committed to the theological view of nature that sits at the center of environmental ideology, all trade offs are false. This holism makes it possible for environmentalists to both believe that climate change is an existential crisis that trumps all other social and political claims and that there can be no conflict between climate mitigation and all other environmental concerns.

And so, in recent weeks, it has become impossible for even sympathetic progressives and Democrats to ignore the spectacle of the institutional environmental movement and its new fangled activist wing debasing itself campaigning against saving Diablo Canyon and reforming environmental permitting. If the Death of Environmentalism, and the profound shifts in the policy and political landscape over the last decade that have followed, marked the beginning of the end of environmentalism, the next decade will mark the end of the end.

The Death of Environmentalism was a paradigmatic critique, arguing that as the focus of ecological politics shifted from local to global problems, the contradictions, workarounds, and exceptions that had always created problems for environmental advocacy would overwhelm its institutions, policies, political strategies, habits of mind and conceptual frameworks.

In this, the regressive and obstructionist impulses of the environmental community do not represent a deviant impulse, a failure to grapple with the scale and nature of global climate change, or a mistaken turn toward utopianism when pragmatism is called for. They are central to the ideology and identity. Caring for the environment and being an environmentalist are not the same thing—and can even be antithetical. An abundant, just, and ecologically vibrant future will require a very different sort of politics and a very different sort of movement.