The negative cast of contemporary politics is displayed nowhere so much as in the debates over the environment. In capitalist U.S., rivers have been cleaned up, air quality in big cities greatly improved, and energy conservation achieved even as relatively cheap and abundant energy is available. The key word is “abundant.”
Meanwhile, in big cities in Communist China, the air is so foul that tourists are beginning to avoid most of the year.
The Small is Beautiful movement came about in the 1970s, not coincidentally, perhaps, after the U.S. gave up the Vietnam War and anti-war protestors, missing the old spirit, sought out a new secular millenarian cause. The 1973 book by E. F. Schumacher was snapped up by young people for more than a generation. The good side of the cause was the effort to humanize life with small scale, local farming, a return to craftsmanship in wood products and many “artisanal” (as they came to be known) food products.
The bad side was the Luddite effort to halt almost all development and to imagine that the U.S. was leading the world to sick and ultimately fatal ecological diseases.
It’s a long story and it doesn’t get told much in the major media. Matt Ridley has a fine piece along these lines, though, in the Wall Street Journal.
It would be good, bearing this topic in mind, if conservatives started talking more about providing an economic and social program that sponsors effective conservation, but also serves the cause of abundance. If, for example, you really care about the poor, and if you care about the next generation, the world of scarcity is a dystopia that should be avoided. It might be fit for Marxists (conscious and unconscious), but not for the great spirit of the American people–the people whose system provided them with affordable cars, electricity and inexpensive foodstuffs. The fight over inequality is bogus. The real issue is realistic hope and nihilist paranoia.
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