Ethical Perspectives 4 (3):191-203 (1997)

Recently there has arisen a new wave of optimism in the discussions about the environment. According to Gregg Easterbrook, one of the most prominent of the environmental optimists, we are presently witnessing fundamental and far-reaching changes for the better: “the Western world today is on the verge of the greatest ecological renewal that humankind has known; perhaps the greatest that the Earth has known” .The optimism of these new environmental optimists is not simply strategic, a mere psychological stimulant to maintain the struggle against environmental destruction. They believe there are good reasons for being optimistic: they claim that a sober and scientific analysis of the environmental problematic shows that the prospects for the Earth and for our own kind are actually much better than the eco-alarmists would have us think. Nature is not on the brink of collapse. The real existing problems can be controlled and solved, at least if we are prepared to adopt a less dogmatic, more rational, pragmatic and flexible approach. The environmental movement, and environmental protesters are locked into ideas, analyses and attitudes that are no longer in touch, or never were in touch, with reality. So the time is ripe, according to the American environmental optimist Ronald Bailey, for a second wave of environmental activism. It is time for “a modern, smart environmentalism” .In what follows, I shall look at environmental optimism primarily as it is presented in Gregg Easterbrook’s voluminous book. His book contains a comprehensive and well-documented argument in favour of a new approach and a new attitude toward the whole environmental problematic. Of particular interest is his attempt to ground environmental optimism in an image of nature that has clearly been influenced by dynamic or evolutionary ecology — a new paradigm in ecology. Easterbrook considers himself a ‘liberal’, which might be translated as a ‘social democrat’ in the European political spectrum. He is not at all opposed to the environmental movement, environmental protest or environmental politics. Indeed, he regards the environmental movement as one of the most positive social developments of the 20th century. The politics of the environment and environmental protection legislation are, in his opinion, among the greatest success stories of the post-war social-democratic welfare state. “Americans and Europeans today live in a world where effective environmental influence is assured at nearly every level of government and business. This is a wonderful development for society”
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DOI 10.2143/EP.4.3.563002
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