Meet the most powerful man you've never heard of. He is the intellectual father of the modern environmental movement, both the good and the bad.
When you turn off the electric lights and instead light candles at Earth Hour, that is a perfect symbol of William Vogt's message.
From Charles C. Mann's excellent book, the Wizard and the Prophet:
Vogt, born in 1902, laid out the basic ideas for the modern environmental movement.
In particular, he founded what the Hampshire College demographer Betsy Hartmann has called “apocalyptic environmentalism”—the belief that unless humankind drastically reduces consumption its growing numbers and appetite will overwhelm the planet’s ecosystems.
In best-selling books and powerful speeches, Vogt argued that affluence is not our greatest achievement but our biggest problem. Our prosperity is temporary, he said, because it is based on taking more from Earth than it can give.
If we continue, the unavoidable result will be devastation on a global scale, perhaps including our extinction.
Cut back! Cut back! was his mantra. Otherwise everyone will lose!
The symbol of innovation 💡
The lightbulb is a very good symbol of innovation. It was the result of many people testing different ideas, and one person - Edison - testing hundreds of solutions. It also literary brought humanity out of the darkness. The light we got from candles, open fires, kerosene lamps and gaslight was dim and dull. It also produced lots of emissions and particles, killing millions of people.
The lightbulb is one of humanity's greatest inventions. Turning that off is not the symbol we should use for fixing climate change or creating a better environment on Earth.
Our capacity to solve problems is larger than we think
Instead we should listen to Wired founder and author Kevin Kelly:
"We should be optimistic not because our problems are smaller than we thought, but because our capacity to solve them is larger than we thought."
A new environmental movement
Warp News editor-in-chief, Magnus Aschan writes:
"...a new climate movement is needed that focuses exclusively on possibilities and solutions, not shame and fear: A movement with a vision of a better society, which we have already begun to build on, where we jointly increase the construction pace. This is driven by an enormously powerful technological development that in its wake changes behaviors and societies fundamentally for the better. It is driven by commitment, willingness to change and curiosity."
We need an environmental movement based on Borlaug and Kelly. Innovation will create a completely sustainable world, and also a much better world in other aspects as well. A world where we still can travel, enjoy abundant energy and eat real meat, but without polluting Earth and killing animals.
Parts of the environmental movement already embrace this, but the cut back-people – the apocalyptic environmentalists – still seem to be in the majority. That slows down our transition to a sustainable world.
Whose job in life it seems to be to turn off the light in rooms where no one is. Just because electric light is a great innovation doesn't mean we have to waste it.