This (and Iraq) was enough to carry a reborn-environmentalist Hilary Clinton to the White House in the beginning of 2009. There was hope. Clinton, France’s Sarkozy, Germany’s Merkel, joined by a growing number of prominent corporate leaders, were all about the environment. But it quickly became clear that they could not deliver. When tough decisions had to be made, such as taxing pollutant activities including intensive agriculture, discouraging car use or creating windmill farms against the will of locals (some of them bona fide environmentalists when it came to the rest of the world), they had either no support, or no courage, or both. Nobody was ready to sacrifice anything in favour of unclear returns, and without the certainty that other communities throughout the world would also commit to the same level of effort.
Sure, funding for environment-oriented R&D, whatever that covered, was more than doubled, and some symbolic projects were launched such as Toronto’s solar farms. But one of the most visible projects, the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games which were touted as the world’s first «green games», was quickly exposed as pure «green washing»: pollutant activity was just outsourced elsewhere, fuel-powered vehicles were replaced by cars powered by fuel-plant generated electricity, most locals were forbidden to use their cars during the event, etc.
To cap it all, 2011 saw the majority of emerging countries leave the fledgling «Kyoto II» talks, complaining (with some reason) that post-industrial countries were in fact denying them the right to grow in order to protect their own standards of leaving.
Environmentalists, as well as a large part of public opinion (especially in the North, it must be said) watched with disbelief as political institutions and large corporations, sometimes despite their best intentions, proved unable to stir the world into an even slightly different direction. Incredulity grew when scientists in labs and startups started showing significant results in many areas: nanotech crystals for efficient, flexible and cheap solar panels, small-size and safe nuclear plants, cheaper and safer (although neither cheap nor safe yet) hydrogen production and storage, efficient and versatile isolating materials and fabrics, recyclable oil-free plastics, high-yield and low-input genetically modified crops…
It seems that we knew how to make the world more sustainable. So, why did we not do it? And without ever deciding it, people started to do it themselves.