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The Death of Environmentalism
Alex Steffen, 14 Jan 05

Is environmentalism dead? Salon jumps in to the debate with a piece, Dead movement walking? (paid sub or ad clicks req.):

"If you want to get someone's attention, tell him that the movement he's dedicated his life and career to is dead.

"If you really want him to take notice, declare that his own strategies and tactics dealt the fatal blows, but he's too blind to see that he's still beating a corpse.

"And if your aim is actually to force him to stand up and fight, announce all this publicly to the very generous folks whose grants fund his programs and paycheck."

But, it should be said that two very different arguments are getting conflated in the discussion around the death of environmentalism here. One is the specific argument raised by Shellenberger and Nordhaus (PDF), which I find not entirely convincing and somewhat self-serving. Then there's a larger debate, of which they are a subset, which recognizes that environmentalism is everywhere on the defensive, lacks a compelling vision of the future, and doesn't know how to frame its highest goals. These are different things.

We've said a lot about the steps I believe environmentalists need to take to reclaim their effectiveness, and about the story I think the next chapter of environmentalism will tell. (With more here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here and here...), and I find the fact that this conversation is occuring to be an enormously healthy thing -- we may yet find ourselves with an environmentalism worthy of the 21st Century.

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My primary comments are in the comments section to your next chapter in environmentalim article but I will reiterate one: there is no unifying vision.

Just read a piece by Donella Meadows on "Envisioning a Sustainable World" that she wrote for the Int Society of Ecological Economics conference in 1994. Powerful piece about the difficulty of getting people to envision not a possible future but the best future.

A few years ago, I was doing research for a Peter Senge book and investigated the literature of ecological futures. There wasn't any. I contacted Kim Stanley Robinson and he gave me a few references but admitted that there wasn't much outside of UK LeGuin and Ernest Callenbach. How can we reach a future even our most imaginative can't reach?

Maybe we can start by doing it ourselves, one at a time.

BTW, I was reading that article for an informal class on natural capitalism taught by Amory Lovins' god-daughter, a freshman at MIT. She wants to bring Amory to the 'Tute for some extended lectures and she may just have the gumption to do so. Whether the 'Tute is ready to listen is another question altogether.

My vision is to start thinking about zero emissions with the same kind of rigor that W. Edwards Demng thought about zero defect on the production line. Environmental quality as an outgrowth of total quality management and Six Sigma. Hey, if it's good enough for corporate "hero" Jack Welch of GE why shouldn't it be good enough for the rest of us?

Posted by: gmoke on 14 Jan 05

At risk of being simplistic, I see two themes that might better grab the attention of the American public: health and terrorism. Recent election results indicate that fear is a great motivator. So I say that environmentalists must link the increasing rates of cancer with pollution. We don't have to prove it scientifically — just say it often enough and it becomes intuitively obvious.

The connection between fossil fuels and terrorism can be exploited. The money we spend in the Middle East funds terrorists. We must state that fact over and over. Only when that message is widely accepted will alternative energy sources be considered by the average American.

Posted by: Myke on 15 Jan 05

Also, there's need to offer (compile?) ways out, and facilitate each of them - make them something that's near to people's mind - targetting each group of minds in turn.

this may resonate.

Posted by: lugon on 15 Jan 05

As I recall, Union of Concerned Scientists did focus groups on linking fossil fuel alternatives to terrorism after 9/11 and found that it didn't work. Too bad.

Posted by: gmoke on 15 Jan 05



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