If you only read one thing this week…

The Death of Environmentalism (article) by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
June 1, 2006, 9:58 am
Filed under: Articles, Environment, If you have 30 mins

The Death of Environmentalism – Global warming politics in a post-environmental world by Michael Shellenberger and Ed Nordhaus, published by the Breakthrough Institute. This link will take you to a pdf of the article.

The article is based on interviews with 25 leaders in the mainstream environmental movement and looks at some of the challenges of 'environmentalism' over the past decades. The authors argue that the modern environmental movement is ill-equipped to face the massive global challenges of climate change (among other things). Their critique claims that, while environmentalism has had many successes in the past decades, there is a surfeit of visionary new ideas, and 'environmental' problems are narrowly defined, with proffered solutions tending to be short-sighted and technical.

John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club sums it up when he says that "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe". The premise is that environmentalists have done themselves a disservice by treating the environment as a 'thing', separate from (and competing for attention with) all the other problems currently facing humanity. For those of us trying to address other critical challenges – poverty, war, unemployment etc. – it becomes all too easy to ignore environmental concerns. We need though to start seeing environmental degradation and climate change as both a cause and an effect of these other critical problems.

The authors claim that environmentalists have focused public attention on 'technical solutions', which probably will not solve the underlying causes of the problems, rather than helping people to understand the depth of the impact of these problems.

As the authors point out elsewhere "there’s something funny about the concept of “the environment.” If the concept includes humans, everything is “environmental,” and it has little use other than being a poor synonym for “everything.” If the concept excludes humans, it is scientifically specious (not to mention politically suicidal) …. the mental model created to deal with smog and create national parks isn’t up to the challenge of dealing with the profoundly complex and global ecological (and political, cultural, and economic) crises of the 21st century."

To me the article resonates with "Don't think of an Elephant", which talks about how US conservatives and the right have been much more successful in their language than the environmental lobby.

For those of us who simply can't get enough, check out an interview with the authors about their paper and the controversy it generated, the recently published follow-on paper called, charmingly, Death Warmed Over, and an interesting speech by Adam Werbach on where the movement is heading.


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Comment by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek

The quote by John Muir is so true! The problems we are having with the environment are not science problems, they are human problems, unseparable from issues of overpopulation and poverty, as well as education on changing societal dynamics. Many traditional societies managed their resources sustainably, when demand was only subsistence, or before non-decomposable trash entered their lives. The site of ‘disposable’ diapers littering tropical island beaches, or plastic bags floating forever in waters to suffocate turtles is not about science, its about changing human understanding, behavior and dynamics in a consummeristic society. Education to make appropriate modern world choices.

Comment by Kathy Fry

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