My views of the Paris conference on the environment were published here last week and need not be revisited. But I think the phenomenon of climate change rigidity is so unusual and widespread, it is worthy of more analysis.
We start from the fact that absolutely everyone is an environmentalist in the sense that the term enjoyed for many years. This was in having a concern, even if belated, for clean air and water, reforestation, preservation of species, and of all mankind being responsible stewards of the physical planet.
No one today claims that lakes belong to industry, and no one, at least in the Western world, accepts the industrial smog that used to prevail in almost all industrial cities, or the untreated sewage that made most of the world’s urban waterways from early in the Industrial Revolution until the last 40 or 50 years a fecal ooze.
In London, in the 1860s, for instance, the Thames was so foul with sewage that the windows of the Palace of Westminster had to be closed to reduce the nausea that afflicted members of Parliament and peers in their deliberations. Even with that precaution, the ghastly odour combined with the summer heat caused frequent unscheduled recesses.
London was widely reckoned the greatest city in the world, though Paris, Vienna, and even New York preceded it in building comprehensive sewer systems which did not really treat the effluent but conveyed it some distance from the nostrils of the most populous and prestigious urban areas.
The battles for cleaning up the air and water in North America, and such specific problems as acid rain, achieved very wide support and were carried, ultimately with little opposition, though the implementation was very costly to the corporate sector and municipalities, and the waste disposal picture remains far from perfect, though very much improved.
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