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Apocalyptics: An Excerpt From "Divided Planet"

In 1990, the Worldwatch Institute gave us forty years to make the transition to an "environmentally stable society." Worldwatch's president, Lester Brown, spelled out the consequences of failure in cool, unambiguous terms: "If we have not succeeded by then, environmental deterioration and economic decline are likely to be feeding on each other, pulling us into a downward spiral of social disintegration." Not all greens think the clock is set for 2030, but the early 1990s saw a remarkable number of environmentalists anxiously declare that the 1990s would be the pivot of future history. It is this fear, explains Tom Athanasiou in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Divided Planet, that informs everything that greens say and do. He writes: "Beneath their love of wilderness, solar power and whole food, beneath their hopes for regulatory and legislative innovation, there is fear. It is fundamental to green culture, to the apocalyptic temptations that mark green culture, and to our common predicament. The ecological crisis is real, but it is also gradual in its evolution, and it does not find us -- rich and poor, black and white -- equally prepared for its depredations. Greens know they are right and can be almost crushed by that knowledge. They long for movement and resolution, and this, it seems, is a weakness. As the right-wing settles into a long, dirty campaign against environmentalism, among its prominent weapons is a snide dismissal, a feigned ironic certainty that strong environmental warnings are only apocalyptic fearmongering, or, worse, a neobolshevik tree-hugging hysteria. It is as if science itself -- long an ally of business-as-usual, but now, as ecology, becomes inconvenient -- can simply be ignored."