American Power After Afghanistan
How to Rightsize the Country’s Global Role
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees,” a famous environmentalist rant began, almost half a century ago. Dr. Seuss’ creation had to speak for the trees, “for the trees have no tongues”; he spoke as well for the Brown Bar-ba-loots in their Bar-ba-loot suits, and all the rest of nature’s flora and fauna, who were under attack by, essentially, industrialized modernity. The conclusion of the book was stark: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Some of the fears expressed back in 1971 have proved unfounded, and some of the then nascent environmental movement’s proposed remedies have not worn well. But given what’s happening around the world, complacent optimism seems destined to appear as misguided as frantic pessimism, for various reasons. Although we’re not particularly well known for it, we at Foreign Affairs care a great deal about the state of the physical world and all its inhabitants, and have run a substantial number of articles about environmental, conservation, and climate issues. So we decided this spring that it was time to pull together some of the highlights of our coverage in this special collection.
Reading them over, it is hard not to be shaken by the scale of the damage being wrought on the planet and its non-human inhabitants by rapid, unregulated growth around the globe. But it is also hard not to recognize how much sensible public policy could do to address the problem. Call us naive technocrats, but we really don’t believe that there is necessarily a stark, zero-sum choice between economic progress and environmental protection. Many of the pieces lay out promising ideas for ways to allow modern human society to move forward while limiting the collateral damage on the natural world.
In the end, I think Dr. Seuss’ conclusion is partly right. Unless we care a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. But caring by itself isn’t enough: it’s important to care about the right things, and to think intelligently about them. We hope this is a useful guide in that effort.