The Environment's Real Enemies are Easy to Find, Their Cars Fill the Mall Parking Lots Everywhere

John Atcheson's article today, On 400 PPM, Mass Stupidity, and the Suicidal Language of Climate Lemmings, starts out with a couple of great lines: OK, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide.  But they do reproduce chaotically, and periodically consume their way out of sustainable habitats, and into mass migrations that result in most of their population dying. Sound familiar?

The 400 ppm part of John's title refers to the Keeling Curve's latest measurement of global CO2 concentration which shows that we'll be passing the symbolically significant 400 ppm mark perhaps today or maybe next week, but very soon. Like so many of us, John is somewhere between distressed and depressed on any given day by the apparently suicidal route our consumer culture is hurtling down and the consequences for humanity's survival.

Stephen Leahy's piece, As World Burns... Rich Countries Drag Feet at Climate Talks, expresses the same existential angst from a slightly different, more Canadian, angle. In it he points out that because of Canada's current and proposed export expansions of coal, tar sands crud and natural gas "Canada’s future prosperity will be based on profiting from dumping two billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere". Both are heartfelt well written articles, both speak to the same problem, both argue that our leaders aren't doing enough to fight the evil corporations.

This top down solution is the argument dejour. It started long before Bill McKibben declared the fossil fuel industry to be 'the real enemy' in his widely read and well documented  Rollingstone article, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math. Hard working and dedicated as he is, Bill Mckibben has become a sort of CC pied piper leading an increasing desperate troupe of environmentalists down another blind alley - divestment in fossil fuels. As Christian Parenti, and many others point out, divestment is an admirable and honourable thing to do but it's useless at best because it denies "...the basic economics of the fossil fuel industry, we actually sustain and feed Exxon, Chevron, Shell and the rest not as investors, but as consumers. We give them money when we buy gasoline."

Worse yet the longer the erstwhile environmental community continues to focus on one top down, blind alley solution after another the real real enemy, the enemy who's cars fill the mall parking lots everywhere daily, keep demanding and consuming more needless crap. Instead the real enemy in the mirror every morning - the demand-ers - must be the focus of a bottom up solution. As Jorge Majfud says, "Trying to reduce environmental pollution without reducing consumerism is like combating drug trafficking without reducing the drug addiction."

Why do so many intelligent, well educated people like McKibben, Naomi Klein, James Hansen and others focus on the suppliers of our addictions in drug warrior fashion? Maybe it's because they know that a demand side, bottom up message that focuses on middle class consumer and investor culpability would be angrily denied and dismissed?