What Happened to the Green Movement?

By Edwards, David | Contemporary Review, May 1992 | Go to article overview

What Happened to the Green Movement?


Edwards, David, Contemporary Review


The silence that has come to surround environmental issues is deafening. From the impression created, we might be forgiven for thinking that all is right with the world, that this muteness reflects a sense of easy security in the knowledge that the crises, which at one time seemed to imperil humanity itself, are now safely |under control.

Certainly, this contrasts markedly with the eruption of public concern following the catastrophes of Chernobyl and the discovery of wide-scale ozone depletion. Then, as if over-night, industry and government found their agendas filled with a whole new range of issues for which the public demanded answers and action. Subsequence broad scientific agreement over the imminent probability of drastic global warming led, for a while, to the quite extraordinary prospect that the industrial nations might actually be forced to ease back on the throttle of economic growth in the realization that an unquestioned faith in the possibility of endless |progress' might have had its day. For the industrial nations -- whose whole sense of indentity has been built onprecisely this idea of a proressive, triumphal march to some utopian future of infinite wealth, power and leisure -- the idea that we might, in fact, have got it wrong, came as a truly unprecedented shock. Indeed, it is difficult to adequately stress the scale of culture-shock implied by even the suggestion that the existing sense of progressive history, of human direction, might have to be reassessed for the sake of sheer survival.

Yet this was exactly the challenge which, for a time, seemed to have been laid down by the Green movements when, for a brief moment in this country, the Green Party actually became the third party.

Today, with the Green political pulse barely detectable at one per cent and Jonathon Porritt warning that the Green Party has |all but disappeared as a serious political force', we have to ask -- what on earth has happened to the Green movement.?

Environmental concern has not lessened because the problems have gone away. Last summer, The Stratospheric Ozone Review Group reported that ozone depletion over Europe had reached 8 per cent predicted to rise to 20 per cent by 1997. More recently (February 1992), however, NASA has confirmed EC-commissioned research suggesting that 50 per cent more ozone-depleting chemicals are now present in the atmosphere over Europe than have ever previously been found elsewhere, As a consequence, both research agencies have predicted catastrophic ozone depletion of between 30-40 per cent over Europe this Spring (United Nations studies have indicated that a one per cent depletion of ozone would lead to an increase of 70,000 new cases of non-melanomic skin cancers). |Our conclusion is that the immune system of the atmosphere -- its ability to fight ozone-destroying chemicals -- is weaker than we suspected,' NASA scientist Professor James Anderson has said, adding -- |None of the news is good'.

The vulnerability of animal and plant life (especially the foundation-stones of the great food-chains such as plankton) to ultra-violet radiation is not in doubt. Forty per cent ozone depletion would herald unimaginable and unprecedented environmental chaos

The uncertainties surrounding global warming are well known and many have sought a dangerous comfort in them. These same people, however, seem to choose to remain unaware of the extraordinary level of agreement among climatologist regarding the reality of global warming. The disagreement lies not in the existence but in the extent of global warming. The fact is that all current climate models suggest that global warming will take place somewhere between 10 and 100 times faster than living systems have experienced since man has walked the earth. While many climatologist have sought greater accuracy than this in the study of possible feedback effects (for example, of oceans, clouds and snowy terrain) in amplifying or suppressing global warming, the literally infinite complexity of the climate systems involved has, so far, made accurate and conclusive prediction impossible. …

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