No hoping for the environment

I happened upon this article rather late, as they ran the feature in February, but here is an synopsis:

“Is hope a placebo, a distraction, merely sowing the seeds of disillusionment?” they ask, in an opinion piece titled “Abandon Hope.” The authors, co-founders and directors of the Conservation Ethics Group, an of environmental ethics consultancy, examine the proper role of hope in environmentalism. They suggest that hope’s alternative is not hopelessness or despair, but rather the inherent virtue of “doing the right thing.”

John Vucetich and Michael Nelson. Abandon Hope. The Ecologist, March 2009

I wonder about this. Much of the environmental discussion is conducted in terms of apocalypse: we’re doomed, we must save ourselves. Then when somebody like Bjorn Lomberg comes along and refutes that message, the reaction is histrionic, like the guy is a Holocaust denier or something, when all he is doing is shaking up the discussion and looking at the data. So there’s already a heavy moral component to the environment–for some people, it ties into longstanding western ethics associated with efficiency and frugality, for others it ties into obligations regarding stewardship and responsibility towards other life or for resources over which humans have control, and for yet another group it emanates from obligations towards other people, either their cohort, the next generation, or both. Anne Coulter–somebody so relentlessly self-promotional that she hardly needs me to link—maintains that environmentalism is the “religion of the left.”

So it’s not as though environmental values are not already bandied in terms of “right” and “wrong” already. When I say that I study sustainable transport, people get a pained look on their faces and say “I know I should take transit, but it just takes so long and it’s so hard to get anywhere and it’s…etc., etc., etc.” It’s not like people don’t know what they probably should be doing or should not be doing here. They don’t do “right” by the environment because they have other priorities, not because they don’t care and don’t see it as a matter of right and wrong, and you probably need better ethical imperatives to help them set their priorities than “the environment is more important than your other priorities because the environment is my priority.”