It is the very nature of the environmentalists' struggles that while most of their victories are temporary, their defeats—and there have been enough of these lately—are often permanent. Bucking the momentum of two centuries of industrial expansion, they needed what amounted to a revolution just to slow environmental degradation, and now even that revolution appears to be stalling. The achievements of the Environmental Decade, which occurred because people became justifiably alarmed about pollution, are being treated as a luxury that can be cast aside when times get tough.
Even in the hardest times, however, industrial society must heed the warning of the 16th-century philosopher-scientist Francis Bacon that "We cannot command nature except by obeying her." Otherwise, for the sake of immediate economic gain for some, all will suffer in the long run. If environmentalists are obliged to accommodate themselves more to economic and energy interests, it is equally essential that those interests, like it or not, submit to the demands of the environment. The fact that environmental problems happen to be increasingly complex is an argument for more, not less, vigilance.
If only for the sake of their peace of mind, environmentalists seem to be able to remain upbeat even while forecasting the apocalypse. Accordingly, they promise not to rest on their oars. As McCloskey says, almost jauntily, "Things aren't going well for us right now, but the environmental movement has proved it has staying power. Every year people say we're dead or on the run. But most of what we accomplished during the '70s has become institutionalized. Those things are pretty well cast in concrete."
Unless he is right, nature will have more reason than ever to revolt offended at the ways of men.