Wednesday, May 04, 2005

. . . and I thought green was the new pink.

Here's an article from The Week Magazine on "Why green has gone out of fashion." Reference is made to last year's proclamation by Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus that environmentalism is dead. This announcement raised more than a few eyebrows, particularly among those who work tirelessly to ensure that environmentalism remains a force to be reckoned with, particularly in policymaking decisions. Further, environmentalism has logged some major successes in the past century-- the Clean Air Act and various other environmental policies and laws have emerged from the movement's success at creating increased awareness of problems and potential solutions. What do you mean, "environmentalism is dead"?!?

If Schellenberger & Nordhaus wanted to get the attention of the green movement, they certainly did. The ensuing conversation wouldn't have been quite as passionate had they merely suggested that environmentalism was dying, or a little bit under the weather. One sure way to shake things up within a movement is to claim that its central purpose is irrelevant, no longer vital, unsuccesful, failed, DOA. Just ask Nietzsche.

There's nothing wrong with a little reflexivity (i.e., a look in the mirror) in the face of the onslaught of climate change. Governments and the media are still trotting out "experts" who claim that climate change isn't happening, or at least not for the reasons environmentalists claim. Economic interests and environmental interests are seen as being sharply at odds, and in the global economy, economic interests will win out every time. The public doesn't seem to be too alarmed-- particularly given the gradual nature of the changes (at this time, anyway). It's too easy to portray environmentalists as being out of touch with reality, as encouraging asceticism and advocating Ludditism, as being raging ideologues incapable of critical thought. Why? Why is the environmental movement still treated as a "special interest" on the fringe of world politics? Why is still so easy to marginalize the voices of environmentalists? Schellenberger & Nordhaus propose that the blame does not rest entirely outside of the movement, but that some responsibility for the remaining gap between environmentalism and mainstream thought lies within the movement itself. There's a very thorough report on this at Grist.

Now, activism can get slowed down by too much belly-button gazing and self-examination, it's true. We need to make progress; there's far too much at stake. But to ensure that progress, and the right sort of progress, is being made, the environmental movement must be willing to seriously engage with criticisms such as these and not just write them off as hostile to its goals.

Environmentalism is dead. Long live environmentalism.

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