J500 Media and the Environment

Environmentalists aren’t dead – they’re just wearing new clothes by jseverin
February 5, 2008, 1:50 pm
Filed under: Society + Media

When I was working on my bachelor’s degree just 10 years ago, I could walk through campus and pick out most of my Environmental Studies classmates from the crowd. They were the ones wearing hemp necklaces, worn out T-shirts, and Birkenstock’s – or no shoes at all. It’s sounds cliché, but everyone knew who the “environmentalists” were, and they kept to their own corner of campus. Having grown up in a rural community where “environmentalist” was practically a dirty word, I can’t say I ever quite fit that mold, but I knew I shared many of the same values of my “crunchier” classmates.

So when I read “The Death of Environmentalism” by Shellengerger and Nordhaus, it got me thinking about what kind of environmentalist I was. After examining my own views on global climate change, I decided that maybe I’m not an environmentalist at all.

But what does that make me, then? I know that I share the values of conservation that resonate in the works of Aldo Leopold, but it seems too simplistic to call myself a conservationist. I’m not a businessman or an economist, but climate change makes me think like one. Although it is difficult to put a price tag on the effects of climate change, the UN recently reported that it could cost as much as $20 trillion over the next 20 to 25 years to put our planet on the path to a sustainable future. It is also predicted that climate change will have a considerable impact on human health due to extreme temperatures, increased air pollution, and the proliferation of infectious deceases. In order to address climate change, I have to be aware of these issues, but I’m not a public health official.

I could go on and on explaining every aspect of our lives that is – or will some day – be affected by global climate change, but I think you get the point. Global climate change isn’t just an environmental issue, so doesn’t need just an environmental solution. Environmentalisms and its policy discussions still have their place, but that it is just part of the solution. As Carl Pope points out in his response to “The Death of Environmentalism”

Global warming is a more abstract, distant problem; the economic transformation required is bigger; it needs deeper, more robust, more sustained collaborations; it needs to be harnessed to a broader vision of a new economic order. There is more than enough hard work to go around.

I certainly see that happening around us here at KU. The environmentalists I knew 10 years ago are still out there, they are just wearing a new eco-couture. And they are not just in the corner by themselves discussing the works of Edward Abbey. They’ve got new friends. Last fall, I sat down with student leaders representing their peers in business, architecture, engineering, and environmental studies, as well as representatives of residential and religious organizations. We didn’t talk about who was or wasn’t an environmentalist, just that we all facing this challenge together and it is going to take us all to do something about it.

– Jeff


2 Comments so far
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Jeff, you have flipped around what I like to say but I actually think we are saying the same thing. My shtick is that everyone is an environmentalist – every day – because we all actually do care about this stuff – in different ways, and for different reasons. You are saying you care about these things but you don’t fit the mold so you aren’t an environmentalist. I challenge you with this – what does that make Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

I think my struggle is more with the term “environmentalist”. I have trouble with the negative connotation that the term has developed in some circles. There is an extreme example of this at the end of this post. If that’s what an environmentalist does, I don’t want to be one. Clearly, Schwarzenegger is not standing in the way of progress if “California’s clean technology companies brought in $1.8 billion in investments last year”. In order to work with people who think the environmentalists are out to get them, I think we have to do a better job of redefining “environmentalism” or use a different term altogether to help them understand that environmentalism isn’t what it used to be.

– Jeff

Comment by jseverin

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