Winning the Green Battle in the U.S and Losing the Green World War

If saving the environment means wrecking the economy, China and India won’t do it. And we can’t save the planet without them.

Chicago Sunrise Movement Rallies for a Green New Deal Chicago Illinois 2–27–19. (photo: Charles Edward Miller)

Will and Won’t

The U.S. does not need clean, renewable energy sources and environmentally-friendly methods of disposing of its mountainous range of trash.

The U.S. needs clean, renewable energy sources and environmentally-friendly methods of disposing of its mountainous range of trash that are profitable.

In the environmental equation, the real ecological brass ring is getting China and India on board. If the U.S. adopts measures that hurt the economy, India and China won’t do it.

There is no solution to saving the environment from wholesale human destruction that doesn’t include India and China.

Since we can’t go to war with either one of them, because that is nonsense, and we can’t engineer a coup that installs a environmentally conscious leadership, because that never works whatever the reason, environmentalists are going to have to sell powerhouse and populous nations on the idea.

Scientific proof that everyone will soon be suffering from human-caused climate change and many will die from the catastrophic results should be good enough, of course. How is that working?

Countries don’t want to believe that the planet and every species on it is being imminently imperiled by human beings any more than the average human being wants to believe they will someday die. Deep down, most of us feel like the late writer William Saroyan: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”

He was wrong, of course. As is anyone who believes human beings aren’t having a catastrophic impact on the environment.

So since we can’t force other, more populous countries clean up environmentally, and convincing them with science that they are all going to die isn’t working, we must try a new solution.

Making saving the environment worth their while.

Not just in some hypothetical future projected in a computer model where everyone doesn’t die, but right now.

That means money. And that means technology.

France proves we can’t just tax our way out of environmental peril. There is an economic breaking point that will be reached long before any positive and lasting impact can be made on the environment.

And that won’t do any good, because the long game of Green India and China is far beyond the legislative powers of the U.S. or even the U.N.

Wealth tax won’t work either. It sounds great, sure. But European countries who have tried programs like that in the past decades have mostly abandoned them, as the programs proved one by one to be too insufficient, too difficult to enforce given complicated tax schemes and international tax havens. The programs have also revealed that wealthy people, with virtually unlimited resources, can and do simply relocate to places with gentler tax policies.

Places, it must be added, which are more than happy to receive the ultra wealthy and the high tax revenues they already pay.

So we can’t war our way out of it, we can’t bomb our way out, invade our way out, we can’t tax our way out or spend our way out.

We must innovate our way out of the environmental mess we’ve made.

And it is a mess.

China isn’t taking our recycling any longer. We are the first generation to deal with the fallout from single-use plastics. We are looking up from our daily grinds to see that plastic is everywhere; ocean floor to outer space.

You don’t have to believe in computer projection models that predict all life on earth will be dead in 12-years to believe that human beings are being poor stewards of the Earth.

A sea of single-use plastics, a glut of animal foods, toxic waste dumped into the ocean until the mid-90's, cruise ships pumping out waste water into the very ecosystems that sustains their industry: You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of Greenpeace to appreciate that some corporations have been greedily carrying on as if there is no tomorrow.

Child labor laws exist for a reason. If some people weren’t utterly unscrupulous, we wouldn’t need them. Unlike child-labor laws in the U.S., Environmental laws are, let’s say, somewhat inadequate.

It is time to get more serious about environmental laws. But that is just the stick. Conservatives don’t like the stick; no one does. China and India won’t like the stick either. None of them will stand for it.

Legislating Impossibility

A king can do whatever they want; in a democracy, you need a majority. And in the U.S., even when you get a majority, you still need further consensus.

What, that makes it too hard to do what you think is best for everyone? Great! That is exactly the point.

We need to talk about the carrot. Everyone loves the carrot.

Tax incentives for innovation. Research grants into recycling. Start-up funding for tech projects. Tax breaks for early adopters.

Test Case: Old Clothes

Disposing of clothes people don’t want anymore is quickly becoming one of the environmental issues reaching critical mass: No one wants our old clothes.

We used to send them in great bales to other countries. Now, those countries want cheap, new clothes from China, just like us.

A one-cent disposal tax (the stick) could be built in to the price of each clothing item to pay for (the carrot) programs aimed at cutting down waste and environmental impact, and for recycling that clothing item.

The Power of the Free Market

If you are a conservative and you don’t believe this strategy will really work to solve the environmental-impact problem, you don’t really believe in the free market and you aren’t really a capitalist.

If you build it, they will come. If there is money to be made from it… Americans are an entrepreneurial bunch amiright? These days, when I hold the latest tech marvel, in hands that once held a Speak-n-Spell, I smile knowing that somewhere smart people are even now making something even better.

Because they want my money.

What is more, they will try to make it cheaper and cheaper. Because they want my $1,000. But they want someone’s $500, too. And they want everyone’s $100, if they can get it. What is incentivized in a free market gets progressively better and cheaper.

First-gen indoor plumbing wasn’t all that reliable. Or affordable. But I certainly am glad someone saw a profitable future in it, a ripening market and money to be made.

Want to see a miracle? Get a drinking glass, go to your sink, turn on the tap, and take a drink.

Your tastes are probably a bit more refined than tap water these days, but the potable water you casually bathe in everyday is the result of thousands of years of collective innovation to solve a persistent human problem

Clean water.

And solving problems is how people get rich.

People don’t believe they are going to die. They don’t really believe the world is ever going to end. But they do believe they could become filthy rich at any moment.

We need a sound ecological plan to tackle human impact on the environment that is so profitable, India and China can’t wait to adopt it. If we adopt environmental measures that reduce U.S. environmental impact at the expense of the U.S. economy, environmentalists may win the battle for America.

And lose the global war for a green future.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)