Death of Environmentalism is not DOA: Time to have it out

Today’s NYT has a cover-story by Felicity Barringer on the DOE debate, part of which unfolded at the What Works conference I participated in last week: “Paper Sets off a Debate on Environmentalism’s Future.”Barringer accurately describes our movement’s divided response to the paper: “The observations have rippled through the environmental movement to the anger of some of its leaders and foundation executives and to the applause of a scattering of younger or less visible environmentalists.”So, who’s angry? Check out these strong rebuttals by some of our movement’s enviro leaders—Carl Pope, Phil Clapp, Frances Beinecke, and Dan Carol. I really do respect these folks, but their knee-jerk defenses are a somewhat disconcerting, and their attempts to quash the discussion are definitely counter-productive and having the opposite effect.So, why so defensive, everyone? No one is questioning the good work you’ve achieved and the successes we’ve enjoyed in the past. Come join us in a rational dialogue here about the future of our movement. We need to answer some fundamental questions about both our future messaging and tactics if we want to move beyond our current muddled position, and DOE is useful because it raises a number of critical questions that haven’t been asked in far too long. Democrats began the debrief and blood-letting process shortly after November 2nd, and we environmentalists should be capable of doing the same absent a clear day of defeat…Any credit that Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s paper, “Death of Environmentalism,” loses by being incendiary, it gains by being provocative. They’re trying to get us to have a meaningful discussion so that we can re-evaluate our current efforts in light of recent losses and new data that helps us understand our audience. If you’re not used to having these discussions in public, then welcome to the internet and empowerment age.Let’s also not get personal about this. Nordhaus and Shellenberger are not questioning our individual commitments to the environment—or that of the enviro giants—when they say that environmentalism is dead, so please don’t waste your time listing your organization’s membership numbers for or your recent success at organizing a beach clean-up. Their point, perhaps obstructed by the title, is that our arguments are falling on deaf ears, and that there’s little evidence that our current strategies are going to deliver the results we want. We can keep holding the line against the Bush administration’s efforts to dismantle environmental protections and international treaties, but that’s not how we’re ultimately going to build a popular grassroots movement around climate change or any other environmental issue. Our single-issue approach is failing both the environmental movement and the Progressive movement at large.My solution won’t be found here… because i don’t have one yet. Let’s just start by getting everyone to acknowledge that we just may have a problem in our current communication/messaging plan and hierarchical tactical approach.

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One thought on “Death of Environmentalism is not DOA: Time to have it out

  1. I agree whole-heartedly. The biggest and most well known enviros out there are often the ones that have been around the longest and thus have become that much more imbedded in political gamesmanship and fallen further from their roots as citizens who care about the 40 acre wooded forest down the road that is about to be denuded by Weyerhaeuser or Boise Cascade. The devil is in the details for the enviro community and our lack of ability to link our arguments to the bigger American picture is what hurts us.

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