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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Hippies Started the Environmental Movement. Which was the Worst Thing That Could Have Happened.

Hippies Started the Environmental Movement. Which was the Worst Thing That Could Have Happened.

Can We Please Have Fights About Now?

Author: Reilly Capps/Tuesday, June 18, 2013/Categories: climate change

[Above: Woodstock. For a period in the late 60s, America ran out of shirts. Photo by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell.]

By Reilly Capps

The most difficult thing to talk about is now. Now is complicated. Now is unknowable. 

But the past ... we're all sure about that.

You'll never stop fighting with your buddies about your days as the JV quarterback. Or with your husband about whether he tricked you into marriage. 

Look at our national fights. They may appear to be battles about now, about gay rights and immigration and affirmative action. But, at bottom, they're about things that happened 50 years ago. 

Take something as simple as bikes. Here's Stephen Colbert on an old lady who's so crusty she can't even get behind bicycles, a technology from the nineteenth century:


If we can't even agree that bikes are a good thing, forget about something like Benghazi. It's a scandal baffling to young people, since it apparently concerns what one person, Susan Rice, said on a few talk shows one Sunday morning. On its face, it's the most inconsequential scandal you can imagine. But, to those fighting it, it represents a larger battle. It's about 9/11, and whether Democrats were too soft on Islamic radicals pre-9/11, or whether, rage after 9/11 made Republicans swing too wildly and punch ourselves in the nose. Affirmative action, gay rights, immigration -- those, too, are fights left over from the days when it mattered more whether you were black or straight or Mexican. We argue about the present only to prove something about the past. 

So, too, with global warming. The utter inability of climate change deniers to acknowledge the most basic facts of thermometers and icebergs suggests that they aren't looking at those things in themselves; they aren't looking at thermometers or yardsticks or computer models. So, what are they looking at? 

The theory of global warming, known for decades, was first trumpeted by people of a certain bent -- specifically, environmentalists who might have chosen the Grateful Dead over the 9-to-5. The global warming theory fit their narrative: trees > SUVs. Luckily for the environmentalists, global warming theory turned out to be unassailable fact. It's always nice when events prop up an argument you're already making; it's the only kind of events that most of us can ever see.

Thermometers record hotter temps; they don't care who reads them. Icebergs crumbling into the sea deliver the message that things are changing; they don't care if anyone hears that message. Science doesn't have an ideology. Nature can't remember the past. 

But people are driven by things like ideology and grudges. And, to certain people, any message delivered by environmentalists -- a person with a pony tail, say, wearing sandals and driving a Subaru -- will be automatically dismissed as a "hippie." 

Hippies don't just represent conservation, or stand for trees. "Hippie" is not only shorthand for "wrong," "misguided," "frivolous" or "blind," the hippie stands, in the popular mind, for a comprehensive agenda pushed for a few years in the 60s -- free love instead of marriage, drugs instead of sobriety, skylarking instead of industry. The hippies pushed ludicrous New Age woo-woo like levitation. They pushed the irrational, they pushed against reality, they sought escape from it. 

Which didn't play in Peoria. A mother in Illinois saw her daughter move to some flop house in Haight-Ashbury -- perhaps run by a person with a pony tail and sandals -- take up acid and polyamory and fall away from her mom. On a personal level, that was terrifying. 

But, for those under 25, environmentalism is totally severed from those hippie, 60s days. Virtually everyone I know under 25 is an environmentalist. They look at the thermometers, they watch the icebergs melt, and figure, "Yeah, duh." 

It helps that the messengers now cut a more dashing figure. Silicon Valley is wildly environmental -- magnate Elon Musk, while trying to conquer space, starts a little car company churning out the fastest, coolest sports cars I've ever seen. Hollywood is, too -- dashing DiCaprio pauses from dating supermodels to document the planet's demise. Most smart, rational, educated people are environmentalists. They dress well. 

And who's on the other side? Old, stuffy folks in ugly blazers, or dingy, pot-bellied men whose loud, inefficient, slow Harley-Davidsons fly POW/MIA flags, even though there's only one POW left.

Not only do those people look profoundly uncool, they look silly. The Koch brothers, pushing coal, are talking like they're on acid. Rush Limbaugh, saying humans are too small to affect the planet, looks as ridiculous as any hippie trying to levitate the Pentagon. Congress members who blame the warming on sun flares or the wobble of the Earth look as stupid as members of congress. They all might as well be on peyote, lying in the grass, staring at the sky, watching clouds turn into bunnies. 

The hippies have swapped roles with the squares. The radicals are now the sensible ones. The world has turned upside down. 

But this is just re-fighting old fights. "You're the real radical!" "No, you are!" 

The reality is that hard choices have to be made. SUVs have to go, investments have to be made in green energy, walls have to be built around coastal cities, rainy-day funds have to be set up for the day when agriculture has to shift north, or to wherever the rain is. We have to be ants, not grasshoppers

These debates will move only when these old guys die. (Or when they stop voting.)
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