Everyone understood that industrializing economies were hard on the environment and at some point ecology and conservation would have to restrain the idea of unchecked development. Without a green force, we get 1970s Lake Erie. But the present liberal green orthodoxy has become an absurd paradox.
Why? Because it cannot resolve two mutually contradictory impulses: the romance of a pristine pre-industrial paradise and the reality of all the appurtenances that go with the present affluence. Even environment-correctness is not exempt. Want a solar farm in the desert? Not if you disrupt a turtle migration path. Aren’t windmill farms the answer? Not if you shred red-tailed hawks on occasion. Don’t you want to put nuclear waste in a safe place rather than above ground? Not if you wish to endanger salt formations hundreds of feet below. Radical environmentalism is nihilistic: it cannot progress or regress, a victim of its own contradictions of wanting nice things to spontaneously generate ex nihilo.
No one believes that Al Gore lives his life according to nature, or that Bay Area communities do not flush their treated wasted into San Francisco Bay, or that professors and actors pass up granite counters, hardwood floors, and cell phones. Take three or four emblematic careers of well-known liberals — a George Clooney, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or John Kerry. In the environmental sense, does any doubt that they are both green and indulgent? In the economic sense, both populist and, in terms of their own lexicon, overpaid? In the social sense, both egalitarians and one-percenters?
Look at greens in Germany: all the nation’s nuclear plants are to be shut down. Its sizable coal reserves are too hard on the environment. There is little domestic natural gas or oil. Solar is a joke under cloudy skies. Huge windmills look like frozen dinosaurs on the landscape stuck in tar. Where then comes the power to make matchless BMWs, where the electricity to run sleek “mass transit”? I suggest that soon, if the mentality does not change, Germany will buy electricity from France, or import natural gas to power its dynamos, or quietly rely more on coal. Again the essential truth: free-market Western democratic capitalism is sustainable, both environmentally and economically, and alone gives us the affluence and freedom to allow a sizable minority to divorce itself from the gritty daily tasks of production to critique and revile the very system that nourishes them.
As long as we realize that parlor paradox, we are fine. But once we allow the poseurs to run things, we are back to Icarus of myth. In other words, it is only annoying that a Senator Obama on the back bench from time to time is grandstanding and demagoguing Guantanamo, calling for “millions of green jobs” in subsidized solar and wind industries, or insisting on “cap and trade”; but no one in his right mind would ever vote such a megaphone into power, no more than young Phaethon would be given Helios’s chariot or Narcissus would be pried from his reflecting pool.