Walking North on a train speeding South

We just wrapped up the second and final day of What Works: Strategies for the New Climate Movement, and I’m now imminently concerned about our ability to be effective as a movement barring some specific but achievable shifts in approach.I think everyone was sufficiently rocked by Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s Death of Environmentalism presentation yesterday, whether they could articulate why or not. One of the biggest take-aways—an intended take-away, no doubt—was the realization that we may just be doing this all wrong. In the same way that Kerry’s issue-based campaign failed to compete with Bush’s values campaign, we’re waging the environmental political war on a series of micro-issues, barely stitched together, that fall on deaf American ears. And justifiably so when you consider more urgent concerns of terrorism, jobs, etc. From Nordhaus’ market data (3 hr in-home surveys of 2,500 people), we learn that the share of Americans agreeing with the statement, “pollution is necessary to preserve jobs,” increased from 17% in 1992 to 29% in 2004. And there’s plenty more, which Bill details at the Grist.We can organize all the direct actions, marches, and protests we want in order to draw attention to an issue, but it doesn’t much matter if we’re speaking on our own terms and not those of our audience. We’re missing a common language both within in our movement and within the entire Progressive agenda. Innovation should be encouraged on all fronts, and we all have our unique skills to contribute, but these skills and innovation are only useful if we’re moving toward a common goal that we can all communicate effectively.So i was sufficiently frustrated to hear Rich Wolfson and Billy Parish open up the day with comments along the lines of ‘let’s not worry about figuring out how to get into lockstep and just do our own best work’. This is convenient and true, but we also need a common language and direction in order for our independent actions to successfully contribute to a greater, larger goal of political or environmental change… And that goal is really a Progressive agenda comprised of our core values, which implicitly include environmental stewardship and, more specifically, limiting our carbon emissions. The still undefined meta-narrative for our values needs to lock into place both for the environmental movement and the Progressive movement before our individual actions can really mean anything at an emotional level to anyone. (Apparently the Principles Project is working on this…?)John Passacantando, ED of Greenpeace and long-time activist, only reinforced the severity of this problem for me in his effort to keep hope alive and rally troops (i paraphrase a bit): “Let’s study successful nonviolent direct action movements, work with various groups, throw it all out, and just try stuff because there are no clear answers.” In short, “What works is whatever works.”Isn’t this what our strategy has been for the past 10 years? Trying different things and seeing what works? Yes, we need to try lots of different approaches, but within a common context and vision. Especially now, in “a time when attention has moved away from environmentalism,” as John pointed out. There’s a role for someone to define this new language and a larger task of coordinating the communication that needs to happen across this broad network.

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