Skip to comments.Death of the environmental movement?
Posted on 12/06/2004 7:24:40 AM PST by ZGuy
Environmentalism is a dead movement walking. So goes the theme of a controversial essay circulating among environmentalists and their funding organizations.
Entitled "The Death of Environmentalism," the epistle was produced by longtime environmental activist Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute in El Cerrito and Ted Nordhaus, vice president of Evans/McDonough, an opinion research firm. Its content was based on interviews with more than 25 of the environmental community's top leaders and thinkers.
On Dec. 8, former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach will take up the cause, in a speech, also titled "The Death of Environmentalism," to be presented at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Several National Public Radio affiliates plan to broadcast the speech a few days later. In it, Werbach will argue that the modern environmentalism must die in order for a new movement to be born.
"Ironically, even as the environmental movement achieves less than in the past, it is raising more money than ever before," Werbach told me on Thursday. "But I'm predicting a funding crash will hit the movement soon." Why? "Because people expect results, and they're not seeing them."
Considering the relative youth of the environmental movement, the notion of death and rebirth isn't as outrageous as it may seem.
During the Nixon administration, the movement convinced Congress to establish the Environmental Protection Agency and pass the first Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
After a string of stunning successes, today's environmentalism seems stalled. "Over the last 15 years environmental foundations and organizations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into combating global warming. We have strikingly little to show for it," according to Shellenberger and Nordhaus.
Now comes added challenge. A second Bush administration is pushing to open even more public lands to timber, oil and gas extraction, and to shift pollution control from government to the market. Last Tuesday, the administration proposed a steep reduction in the miles of rivers and streams to come under federal protection for Pacific salmon, and signaled far-reaching changes in federal enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.
Regional success stories are being rewritten, as well. Since 1973, Oregon has led the nation in the prevention of urban sprawl. But on Thursday, a new voter-approved law will go into effect, forcing Oregon officials (who have no money to spare) to retroactively compensate landowners for regulations that reduce a property's value or waive those restrictions.
"What the environmental movement needs more than anything ... is to take a collective step back to rethink everything," Shellenberger and Nordhaus argue. "Our thesis is this: the environmental community's narrow definition of its self-interest leads to a kind of policy literalism that undermines its power."
They offer a sketchy, sometimes contradictory, alternative vision. Environmentalists should, for example, "ask not what we can do for nonenvironmental constituencies but what nonenvironmental constituencies can do for environmentalists." The movement should work not only to protect specific pieces of land and water, but to change trade policies that undermine environmental protections. It also should champion massive investments in the creation of new alternative-energy industries.
Such a frame would move "the environmental movement away from apocalyptic global warming scenarios that tend to create feelings of helplessness and isolation among would-be supporters," Shellenberger and Nordhaus contend. "Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech is famous because it put forward an inspiring, positive vision that carried a critique of the current moment within it. Imagine how history would have turned out had King given an 'I Have a Nightmare' speech instead." Environmentalists do need to better describe the kind of world they hope to create, and not only the trends they oppose.
Understandably, considering the mounting challenges, many environmentalists instinctively prefer solidifying and marshalling their base. This is no time, they say, for a wave of self-doubt and or analysis-paralysis.
Last week, Carl Pope, the current Sierra Club director (whom Werbach admires), sent grant-makers a remarkable 6,650-word counter-argument to the "Death of Environmentalism" treatise. He called it divisive, self-serving, less than original, based on "shoddy research," and that it has "actually muddied the water and made the task of figuring out a comprehensive and effective set of strategies more difficult."
Nonetheless, Pope does acknowledge lack of progress on global warming; and that environmentalism shares, with the rest of the progressive movement, "a set of increasingly outmoded organizing, advocacy and political approaches."
Werbach is being attacked this week by many of his closest environmentalist friends, underscoring his most interesting point: the movement has no mechanism (other than competition for funding) to encourage debate about the basic tenets of its future. When arguments do occur, they often proceed without civility; environmentalists tend to eat their own which raises an additional question.
Is the environmental movement no longer a movement, but a tradition? A movement suggests change and adaptability. A tradition is something people cling to for a sense of stability, especially in times of fear.
A tradition, by definition, is not open to question.
Environmentalists are socialists with a green patina. They believe the land should be managed by the state and the peasants should kept at a distance. Kind of an updated version of the medieval King's Lands.
'Environmentalism' is not a tradition, but a religion.
And a false one at that!
We probably did need some changes because of air quality but they pushed it way too far.
If they would stick to real environmentalism instead of grossly exagerated ones they might make some progress.
Absolutely so...and the sooner, the better. We as a nation are pissing away energy and capital chasing environmental phantom and fantasy devils...devils that do not exist.
Gaia worship is a set of pagan beliefs centered around the worship of Mother Nature and the corollary that human exploitation of the planet for man's benefit is a capital crime. You deviate from this environmental pseudo-religion, you're a heretic.
'Yes milord, I shall not fill in my wetlands lest his Lordship's fowl be discommoded.'
The real environmentalists are landowners, farmers, scientists, and outdoorsmen. The people from the Sierra Club and other left-wing groups just want to suck our tax dollars dry and force other people to live in conditions that cannot sustain a comfortable lifestyle.
If these people really cared, they would put their funds into new technology. To use less oil and to extract more of our own oil should be their real cause.
There are plenty of 'old' oil fields and ways to open new fields that will help make American life more secure, and protect the environment.
Right now, they seem to have been a one note concerto. Very irritating.
Watermelons. Green on the outside, red on the inside....
Ack. You beat me to the punch line.
I come into contact with environmental activists pretty often. I've been at hearings where 10 people in the audience are wearing gas masks. I've been in stake holder's meetings where the debate got so shrill that meeting was adjourned.
Environmentalists lost their focus somewhere around 1980. Prior to that, ranchers, farmers, hunters, etc. often worked closely with environmentalists. Their "reality-based" support dropped out when extremists offered a vision of zero human impacts - an impossible goal.
When those extremists teamed up with PETA, Greenpeace, Earth First, ELF and others, the cause was lost. People do believe that children have more value than a dog. People won't pay to support a habitat they are forbidden to enter. People really don't want a third world lifestyle.
And by the way - the air is cleaner now than at any time since the industrial revolution. In the big cities it may be cleaner now than ever PERIOD.
I served on the executive committee for my local Sierra Club chapter. I had hoped to induce some change. I lasted about 2 months before I resigned. The Sierra Club is elitism/liberalism at its best-- "the general public is too ignorant to make smart-sustainable choices, we (the Sierra Club) need to push them in the right direction."-- paraphrased quote from one of the board meetings i attended.
Good! I will die happy if I can first dance on it's worthless "Born Again Pagan" grave!!!
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