Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

Break Through. by Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus

Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. By Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

We need new ways to deal with global warming. Gloomy prognostications about the future by environmentalists drives people away rather than having the intended consequence of attracting them. Simply presenting people with facts about global warming can not and will not engage them. We need to attract them, to make it fun, something they want to do.

Environmentalists constantly preach shortage and restrictions. We need to cut back. Restrict usage, or maybe tax it out of existence. Comfortable lifestyle? Forget about it. Scale back now. With or without this doing penance for our sins. But such an approach has two major problems. 1) It doesn’t attract people, certainly not in the numbers needed for real change. 2) It directly interferes with the goals of the Third World to lift themselves out of poverty, to have more comfortable lives for themselves. They quite rightly think it massively hypocritical of the West to tell them they can’t industrialize when the West itself is both comfortable and a primary emitter of carbon.

Break Through proposes the heretical idea that only those who are already comfortable have the time and resources to work on the environment and global warming. Thus, we need to raise the lifestyles of those in the Third World and make them more prosperous. Then they too can and will work on global warming. It’s amazing how not starving frees you to do other things.

How do we do this? The authors say by focusing on precisely that which many environmentalists mistrust – business and commerce. The federal government primes the pump with hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into clean tech, renewable energy, and energy conservation. Private enterprise does the same (and in fact already is doing this.) The result will be major energy breakthroughs that will create new industries as well as enormous numbers of new jobs – and slow carbon emissions too. If China and India have clean ways to produce energy that is cheaper than coal, then they won’t need to use coal. Their lifestyle improves AND the planet gets a break.

This is the time to think big. Forget tiny incremental goals. We need a new energy infrastructure, and this can be created, at least in the beginning, in the exact way the Internet was, by massive governmental funding. No one could have predicted that Arpanet would have morphed into the Internet, which in turn changed the world of business forever as well as creating millions of new jobs.

Let’s do the same thing with energy – that is the message of Break Through.