George Monbiot is not the first enviro to argue that the movement, if it is a movement, has argued itself into a corner. That it is, as he says, "stuck." But he has a knack for putting it plainly:
Those seeking to protect the landscape are not our enemies; nor are those advocating that renewables should replace fossil fuel; nor are those promoting nuclear power as the answer; nor are those opposing nuclear power. We are all struggling with the same problem, all bumping up against atmospheric chemistry and physical constraints.
Generously, he credits a writer new to me, Paul Kingsnorth, for his yet deeper explorations into the quandary, in his elegant web essay The Poets and the Quants:
My feeling is that the green movement has torpedoed itself with numbers. Its single-minded obsession with climate change, and its insistence on seeing this as an engineering challenge which must be overcome with technological solutions guided by the neutral gaze of Science, has forced it into a ghetto from which it may never escape. Most greens in the mainstream now spend their time arguing about whether they prefer windfarms to wave machines or nuclear power to carbon sequestration. They offer up remarkably confident predictions of what will happen if we do or don’t do this or that, all based on mind-numbing numbers cherry-picked from this or that ’study’ as if the world were a giant spreadsheet which only needs to be balanced correctly.
So so true. What is less natural, less earthly, more dead, than a spreadsheet?
And yet it is by spreadsheets — or, to be technical, energy budgets — that some advocates would save us.