Filed under: Society + Media
I thought I had a hangover by the time I finished the Death of Environmentalism. Or that I was drowning in dramatic detail. Thirty years of environmental progress whittled to an argument that we must start over, that the current methods, as described by the authors, aren’t working. It sucked all the joy from highlights and progress over lo these many years.
I had an urge to quench my thirst by dismissing what the authors had to say. And I had a whole list of what I disagreed with, but then I realized it made me sound like a whiney environmentalist. Instead, I took a more sober view: what points had they raised that I agreed with? For one, I think that anyone who wants to change any aspect of the world – even someone else’s opinion – has to recognize the role that values play. Much has been written, in this article and elsewhere, about how much more effective policy change and even holistic social change can be when you tie it to individual value systems. I know from too many late-night conversations at a favorite brewery that if you cannot at least appeal to someone’s frame of reference, the values they already hold, you won’t change their mind. You have to make an argument personally appeal to their worldview.
I also agree that to some extent, environmentalists have defined themselves by what they are not. This is true of almost any movement I can think of. It’s part and parcel of our divisive culture. We are pro-this and anti-that, two camps for every issue. Then there was the claim that evironmentalists don’t know how to build effective coalitions or bridges across multiple groups (or that change would occur if X group would just join in).
But, they are straining in their overall arguments, such as environmentalism is overly tied to policy without politics, that it suffers from literal sclerosis, or that it is isolated from other movements and issues. Nothing crystallized this more for me than the rebuttal from Carl Pope. In Pope’s essay, I see the beginning of what happened between 2005, when “Death” was written, and 2008 – the monumental shift in public opinion to think about the impact humans have on the planet. As global warming or weirding has become more recognizable, it’s showing up as a component in news, the performing arts, economic news, global justice movements, insurance (think hurricanes), etc.
Pope mentioned that the only people the authors talked to were policy “wonks,” when many other people have an influence on environmental awareness and change – especially artists. This will be somewhat of a self-serving remark, but if you want to see how artists are approaching environmental change, go see the art installation “Niche” in Spooner Hall at KU next week. It’s art that can make people confront their assumptions about their environment and the consequences of their choices. It makes environmental choices such as housing and water bottles personal, a matter of (gasp) values. Perhaps that is something the authors of “Death” would agree with. -Jen Humphrey
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