Jonathan Adler ladles a generous helping of grease onto those exceptionally squeaky wheels Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, whose new book strikes him as richly suggestive in its depiction of environmentalists as hectoring anhedonic grinches, and eminently reasonable in its embrace of "an explicitly pro-growth agenda."
First and foremost, Adler agrees with Nordhaus and Shellenberger that environmentalists must stop, already, with the "finger-wagging rhetoric." 'Cause as everyone knows, moral appeals for self-denial and personal responsibility are politically appropriate only when one is agitating against premarital sex or socialized medicine.
Another part of the problem is that too many environmentalists perceive "the environment" as a sort of substrate for human existence, like the Free Market, instead of as an optional lifestyle accessory:
The environment, Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger say, is a "post-material" need that people demand only after their material needs are met.Personally, I can't think of a much more material need than clean air and water, but that's probably just a symptom of my inability to move beyond "a politics of limits."
To make normal, productive human activity the enemy of nature, as environmentalists implicitly do, is to adopt policies that "constrain human ambition, aspiration and power...."God forbid anyone - or anything - should do that. As President Bush so often says, "if it feels good, do it!"
Nordhaus and Shellenberger do have one fault in Adler's eyes, and that's their antiquated belief in the plausibility of government solutions:
[I]t is hard to see why their centralized subsidy plan would produce commercially profitable -- that is, "pro-growth" -- technologies better than the multiple efforts of private investors. In short: Why would an "Apollo" plan succeed where the Synthetic Fuels Corp. failed?That teensy little quibble aside, he feels they've got a pretty firm grasp of the problem: doomsaying environmentalists and their philosophically untenable belief in constraining human ambition. Nordhaus and Shellenberger may not be quite ready to sit at the adult table, but when they are, it seems safe to say that no one will welcome them more heartily than Jonathan Adler.
(Illustration: "Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast" by James Gillray, 1787.)