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If you’re a university department chair attempting to get your environmental program successfully accredited, I am likely the last person you should ask for input. That’s because the technofetishistic fruit being marketed by contemporary environmental pornographers falls so far from the roots of environmentalism that it’s unrecognizable to me as having come from the same tree. In fact, I recently browsed the course catalog of a prestigious university’s environmental program. It detailed a host of courses on solar photovoltaic system design, biofuel reformation, and wind-turbine planning. These programs are meant to train the elite tier of future environmental experts, but it’s questionable whether such coursework will prepare students to perform environmentally meaningful work at all. Entrusting alternative-energy technologies with solving environmental challenges, which at their root are social, economic, and political, produces numerous snags. Let’s begin with two 14. Asking Questions What is the answer? [After a silent pause] In that case, what is the question? –Gertrude Stein’s last words  big ones. First, the technical character of the alternative-energy project greatly limits citizen involvement because most people aren’t trained as technicians. Instead, environmental enthusiasts , activists, students, educators, and others are left to passively drink the green Kool-Aid—drive the green car, buy the green product, or consume the green energy. Second, prioritizing alternative energy as an environmental imperative plays into conceptions of productivism and growth that directly conflict with the stated goals of environmentalists themselves. Before mainstream environmental thinking took the technological turn, many environmentalists criticized growth and productivism, couching their solutions in terms of effective governance and social fundamentals. Numerous organizations still pursue these themes, and their work deserves a greater share of the spotlight. Environmentalists of tomorrow (as Table 1 is meant to suggest ) are more likely to be found studying urban sociology, public health, human rights, critical economics, ethics, international affairs, arts, hand trades, regulatory law, child welfare, The Future of Environmentalism Photovoltaic installations Wind turbine construction Biofuel processing Hybrid cars Electric cars Suburban geothermal systems Hydrogen highways Fuel cells Straw-bale homes Green consumerism Passive solar Efficiency codes Block rebound effects Human rights Citizen governance Walkable-community zoning Volunteerism Consumerism shifts Universal health care Social enterprise Today’s Environmentalism Future of Environmentalism Table 1. The Present and Future of Environmentalism  nursing, and a host of other subjects infrequently recognized as environmental work. There’s nothing new about the right-hand column in Table 1. It’s decidedly low-tech. And while our future will include items from the left-hand column, environmentalists will achieve their goals more quickly and compassionately by focusing on the right-hand side. Asking Better Questions When I criticize alternative-energy technologies, clean-energy proponents frequently grumble that I just don’t get it. Each energy technology needn’t be perfect, they say, because in the future we’ll rely on a mix of energy sources—a little solar, a little wind, a little biofuel, and so on. They have a valid point, to be sure; I won’t argue with that. But I would argue instead that “a little, plus a little, plus a little” won’t get a growing consumption -based economy very far. We would need “a lot, plus a lot, plus a lot” for that. Creating meaningful quantities of any socalled clean energy certainly won’t be easy or affordable. Even if we were able to pull it off, these technologies stand to intensify and entrench energy-intensive ways of life—hardly a durable formula for social or environmental prosperity. This boomerang effect is most pronounced in economic, political , and social contexts that prioritize material growth as the sole measurement of well-being. In the United States, lavishly fueling this Wall Street model of economic expansion has led to drops in almost every quality-of-life indicator compared to other industrialized nations, including health care, happiness, equality, primary education, and trust.1 Cheap power drives growth, expands gdp, ratchets up sprawl, and fuels surplus material consumption. Generating even more power, regardless of the means used, won’t quench these factors but will rather extend their reach. Given present American demographics and consumption, an alternative-energy future doesn’t look especially probable or desirable. Asking Questions  Even if we could afford to dramatically increase alternativeenergy production, what would such a future look like? Would simply adding alternative energy to our current sociopolitical system lead to greater well-being? Or would it just leave us with another strain...


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