Successive Generations of Environmental Solutions

There's a striking pattern in the history of environmentalism. It's the biggest pattern of them all because it has the most to say, if only we could learn from it.

Solving big problems is all about getting the big picture. The big picture is these five generations of solutions have been tried:

1. Conservation parks, beginning with Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The idea was that wilderness areas and wildlife were fast disappearing and that the problem could be solved by creation of conservation parks.

2. End-of-pipe regulation, such as pollution limits, fines, and cleanup funding, like Super Fund.

3. Beginning-of-pipe regulation, such as mandated use of best technology. This solution was preferred to end of pipe regulations because it is much cheaper to prevent pollution in the first place than to deal with it later.

4. International treaties, like the Montreal Protocol and the Kyoto Protocol.

5. Economic instruments, like carbon taxes and emission permit trading.

As each generation of solutions failed, another was devised. It failed too. Here's living proof every solution environmentalism has tried has failed to solve the problem as a global whole:

Ecological Footprint graph

Despite decades of brilliant work by millions of environmentalists, the movement's solutions have had little impact on footprint growth. It marches upward, as unstoppable as an elephant.

Why is this?

As Sherlock Holmes used to say:

"You will not apply my precept," he said, shaking his head. "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

We feel there's only one possible remaining reason that all five generations of solutions failed. Given that all problems arise from their root causes, the only possible reason these problems remain unsolved is that popular solutions do not resolve root causes.