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Where Environmentalism Went Wrong

by Laura Huggins

Writing in today’s National Review Online, Jonathan Adler describes why traditional environmentalists are experiencing a reckoning of sorts, building upon Walter Russell Mead’s recent criticism of the environmental movement:

Mead argues that the environmental movement has become a victim of its own success. Environmentalists began as progressive Davids taking on industrial Goliaths. Now, however, the established environmental movement is a Goliath all its own. In Mead’s formulation, Bambi had become Godzilla: “The greens didn’t fail because they were too loyal to their ideals; they failed because they lost touch with the core impetus and values of the environmental movement. Bambi wasn’t crushed by Godzilla; Bambi turned into Godzilla, and the same kind of public skepticism and populism that once fueled environmentalism have turned against it.”

There are elements of truth in Mead’s thesis. Washington’s environmentalist lobby has indeed become “the voice of the establishment.” But the environmental movement’s problems run even deeper than its detachment from its grass-roots origins. All too often, the professional environmental lobby puts left-wing ideology and partisanship ahead of ecological protection.

Adler suggests that the environmental movement’s answer to any environmental problem is always the same: increase the size of government. But while this approach has often been the source of much environmental harm, environmentalists still neglect to denounce more regulation.

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading environmental thinkers have yet to learn the lessons of Communism’s fall. The dominant green fantasy remains that ecological central planning can succeed where economic central planning failed. This is madness. If central planners lack the information and ability to manage economic concerns, how could they ever account for ecological concerns? Economic central planning is impossible; ecological central planning is harder still.

The environmentalist love affair with big government leads to counterproductive policies and alienates large portions of the electorate. Americans may support environmental protection, but they don’t support a massive, overweening regulatory state. If the only Green answer to ecological concerns is yet more government control of private economic activity, many Americans will turn away.

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