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A Second Ecological Revolution?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page.

The summer of 1988 was long and hot.  One scorching day I casually said to a deliveryman, "Awfully hot."  He responded, "I talk with old-timers who can't remember anything like it in 60, 70 years."  He continued, "It's probably this 'greenhouse effect.'  If you ask me, it's a warning.  All the poisons we're putting into the air and the water - if we don't get our act together, we're going to make the earth a place that people can't live on."  I sat down and penned an op ed that appeared in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers twenty-five years ago this week.

I noted that as a historian, I'm always on the lookout for subtle signs that indicate deep changes in social outlook.  When that conversation shifted from local weather to the global biosphere, I felt I was witnessing "the opening shot of the second ecological revolution." 

The first ecological revolution was based on a popular recognition of the links between the different aspects of the micro-environment: that you cannot poison the bugs without also killing the birds.  The result was a popular movement involving millions of people that produced an array of environmental legislation in dozens of countries.

The second ecological revolution, I argued, would grow out of a recognition of the links of the macro-environment:  "that cutting rain forests in Costa Rica or burning coal in Gdansk may contribute to crop failures in Iowa and tree death in the Black Forest."  Its prime characteristic would be "its commitment to international solutions."

Sadly, I was wrong:  There was no revolution, and today we are paying the price.  For twenty-five years we have tried to ignore my deliveryman's warning.  Now we know he was right.  The carbon and other greenhouse gasses we have put in the atmosphere are indeed causing a greenhouse effect.  And that is indeed making the earth less and less hospitable for human life.    


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