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Building on the Keystone Victory – from Endless Growth to Steady States

In his Op-Ed in today’s NY Times, Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the Administration only agreed to put off the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline because of “not-in-my-backyard” pressure from Nebraskans, which had little or nothing to do with the urgent issue of cutting carbon emissions in order to avert climate disaster.

“For green groups,” Levi says, “the shortest route to blocking fossil fuel development appears to be leveraging local opposition.” The problem with this approach, from Levi’s point of view, is that there is going to be “local opposition” to green energy initiatives like solar and wind farms too.

What Levi, like most Beltway insiders, doesn’t seem to appreciate is that the green movement is not just about opposition.  It’s about positive action.  It’s not just about environmental protection. It’s about social change.

It’s about a shift from a mentality that seeks to keep growing our energy-dependent economy indefinitely, to a mentality that seeks a sustainable steady state.

Steady states are anathema to capitalism–a quarter without growth is a quarter wasted, as any CEO would tell you.

But steady states are exactly what have made our planet a livable environment for the past several thousand years, during which the human species, along with countless others, has thrived.

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Rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline is just a small step in the right direction, towards a society that puts effort and money first into reducing energy consumption, and second into developing energy infrastructure that has the lowest possible impact on the ecological web of life.

The Michael Levis of America don’t understand that this is the real push behind the green movement today.

Yes, we’ll seek allies where we can find them, and make use of whatever sources of power we can find (even pro-oil Republican Nebraskans) to achieve our goals.

But our movement is not about “leveraging opposition.” It’s about mobilizing support, through raising awareness about the threats to our civilization and our planet if we continue along with business as usual.

It’s also about leading the way towards the alternatives that are already within reach if we choose to veer off the beaten path into new, much more stable territory.

Endless growth is a social model that has proven itself to be highly unstable, whether we’re talking about national economies or energy systems.

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez teaches comparative literature and gender studies with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, MA and blogs at Transition Times.

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