I lost my copy of John Brunner’s 35-year-old apocalyptic sci-fi The Sheep Look Up a few moves ago, but as I recall, in it he foresaw an activist anticar group (called Trainites after their shadowy leader Austin Train) whose members regularly marked commuters’ stalled cars with their slogan, “Stop, you’re killing me!”
Megan Tady’s February report in the New Standard (since picked up by Alternet and by Rachel’s Health & Environment newsletter) reminded me. She finds a number of environmentalists arguing that Greenpeace is way too conservative, maybe even holding back environmentalism by merely calling for “various regulations and market-based actions to reduce greenhouse-gas output by 60 to 80 percent over the next 43 years.”
For some environmentalists (she names and quotes David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Brian Tokar of the Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont, and journalist Mark Hertsgaard), “making the urgent call for lifestyle changes – from something as tame as driving less to more radical changes like adopting a vegetarian, localized diet – should go hand in hand with the push for larger, system-wide greenhouse-gas reductions and energy efficiency. They say radically scaling back consumption is needed to ensure global environmental sustainability and equity.” Mere technological changes, they say, won’t get the job done before the planet’s setting gets stuck on “deep fat fry.”
Yes, these modern-day would-be Trainites are the people who cause global-warming denialists like Avery and Singer to lose key brain synapses and conclude that a problem with such a drastic solution must be one that doesn’t actually exist. But I can’t quite tell what the environmentalists to the left of Greenpeace are proposing. What exactly do you do the morning after you’ve made your “urgent call” and your neighbors drive off to work and play as usual?
Lobby to double or triple the gas tax? Is there a single member of Congress who will even talk about the possibility of such a thing? That would do more than any number of “urgent calls” to get people to cut back. Ironically, it would also spark the inventions necessary for us to continue our mobile lifestyle without exuding so much carbon. If the radicals win, they lose.