J500 Media and the Environment

Fundamentalism Killed the Environmentalist Star by acbowman
February 5, 2008, 12:13 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: ,

I have always had some gripes with the environmental movement. Not in the environment or sustainability, but the people who claim to be environmentalists. For some reason I was bothered by the way they framed their message. This “higher than thou” attitude about how I and the rest of the world had to change their ways or we are all going to ruin the planet.

Then one day I saw a quote from the doctor and author Michael Crichton saying that environmentalism was the religion of the 21st century. This basically nailed down my problem with the way environmentalists try to convert the rest of us.

It shouldn’t be that hard, everyone wants open spaces, clean air, and clean water right? So why can’t those who claim to want to save it, convince the rest of us in a way that doesn’t drive us away?

Then “Environmentalism is Dead” began to answer that question. Their overall message that most environmentalists seem blinded by their belief that the environment is in danger, and therefor can’t effectively work with everyone else to solve the problem. I have felt for a long time that environmentalists can’t effectively communicate to the majority because they couldn’t find level playing field to discuss the subject and surrounding factors that come in to play.

The ultimate goal that Shellenberger and Nordhaus seems a much more practical idea to me. By recognizing that everything is intertwined, environmentalists should be concerned with more than just the environment. And through that approach they could reach more people and get more done.

This is illustrated by Schendler and his workings with an Aspen ski resort in, Little Green Lies , the road ahead is not a clearly marked path. He is constantly trying to adapt his approach as new technologies are made available. Not everything is going to work and not everyone is going to jump on board right away. Does that mean it won’t work? Who knows? But is the solution to stand outside the resort and picket it? Probably not. The wealthy string pullers of Aspen would probably pass a city law against picketers. Far more is getting done at the ski resorts as a result of his being there and trying to work with the system.

So what does that mean for us, the communicators? It isn’t trying to get equal coverage of both sides of a scientific debate, but rather recognizing all the parties that have a stake in the issue(which again is really all of us), and try to find solutions that address all the angles.

My thoughts,

Adam Bowman


7 Comments so far
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Adam, I’m sympathetic to your gripes on environmentalists. I think some individuals imagine them as sneering, self-righteous, and concerned about the environment insofar as it relates to their own life, not necessarily any one elses. I agree with the general assertion made in the “environmentalism is dead” that to get past the stigma that comes with any “-ism” we have to recognize each of us is a stakeholder. You’ve also got to be careful, as I mentioned in my original post Warbly Werbach, not to unfairly ostracize and dismiss certain parties outright. Arriving at shared values has to be approached delicately because if it’s not, it starts to smack of coercion. I agree with you, I think it’s admirable that Nordhaus and Shellenberger advocate an expanded pallet of issues from which environmentalists can tap, but you have to be careful. If environmentalists are hoping to build an inclusive “progressive” approach to political and social issues, they could actually alienate not only those with differing political leanings, but those within their own movement. If I have dedicated my life to environmental causes am I going to feel comfortable stretching beyond my own core competencies to talk about, say, immigration? Probably not. It’s a tricky line to toe, but the values-driven approach sounds like a good start.

Vince Meserko

Comment by vincemeserko

Sorry, I accidentally posted my first response with some spelling/grammar errors. It wouldn’t let me delete my post, hence this double-post.

Interesting points, my friend. Vince also brought up some interesting torts to your argument.

However, I have a more fundamental question. Do the environmentalists actually portray themsevles in that light or do the media portray them as far-left yahoos? Personally, I believe it’s a combination of the two that creates the stereotype.

Nothing is more annoying than self-righteous extremeists. But are environmentalists really self-righteous? I think in order to make that assertion, we must have hard, empirical data to back up our answers. It would certainly make an interesting study idea, but it would be difficult to execute.

In all, though, good points.

JJ DeSimone

Comment by jjdesimone

Re: Schendler and SkiCo.
“He is constantly trying to adapt his approach as new technologies are made available.”

It seems to me that he’s constantly adapting to having his ideas rejected based on up-front cost. You’d think that with the millions of dollars pumping through this company, not to mention their extra large (and undisclosed) salaries, oh yes, and the parties that execs and/or the Crowns throw on top of Aspen Mtn. every year that a little extra money could be found somewhere. $20K is probably nothing compared to what it costs to throw the SkiCo New Year’s party alone.

Maybe I’m just upset that I was never invited when I lived there, but come on… how do you justify spending the $$ on lavish parties every single year rather than spending less than what the parties cost to cut light energy consumption by 75% in your #1 hotel?

“Far more is getting done at the ski resorts as a result of his being there and trying to work with the system.”

Yeah, seems so anyway. It would be nice if they cooperated with even more of his efforts though. He must have a lot of patience.

The industry needs to reprioritize its spending/budget – why can’t they funnel money away from something just as immediately unprofitable (parties for example) in order to add to their green initiatives instead?


As communicators, we can recognize all the parties that have a stake and do our best to consider all the angles, but in the end we need to narrow it down to 2-3 conclusions that appeal to common values that span all parties.


P.S. I like your title.

Comment by shemme

I am learning (the hard way) that you can’t be all things to all people. So if we want to make the environmental movement (which is increasingly called the green movement – what does that re-framing indicate?) accessible to more people, we are going to alienate members of the base. Adam Werbach did it by getting involved with Wal-mart. He is perhaps one of the more prominent examples, but certainly not the only one. The question then becomes what kind of change do we want? Is it sufficient to simply encourage people to change lights or carry re-usable bags? Do we alienate people if we tell them they need to stop thinking about buying more stuff altogether? Can’t we all just get along? Why or why not?

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Sarah, as to your comment, “I would be nice if they cooperated with even more of his efforts though. He must have a lot of patience.”

I agree. It would be nice if everyone “got it” right away and made the changes that need to be made. It will just take time. Perhaps the idea of making green posh would get things like that hoitie toitie hotel to switch to more eco-friendly light bulbs.

Vince, why would environmentalists want to make it inclusive? Right away you are alienating folks. That to me sounds like the movement is the definition of their identity, not the actual saving of the environment. One of the reasons societies started in the first place was so that people could work together to solve survival problems…. it’s still the same game. We have to work together. That is the only way. To do that, environmentalists, unions, rich, homeless, etc., are going to have to start finding some common ground.

Simran, I do think we can all get along. But I don’t think it will happen soon. I agree that we need to push for buying less stuff, or making the switch to green stuff. But there has to be a reason for most folks to do it. As I was saying in another post… you can’t start mathematics with infinity, you have to start with one and build from there. So by getting people to use eco light bulbs and re-usable bags, your getting the person thinking about the benefits of green without scaring them away with global disturbance warming change.

Adam Bowman

Comment by acbowman

And J.J…. I love you man.
First, in a scientific journal you have to have empirical data to make the assertion that environmentalists are extremists. On the Internet however, people can generally say what they want with little or no empirical data to back anything up.

Secondly, I wouldn’t call most environmentalists extremists, but I would call their framing of some issues inclusive (to borrow from Vince) and sometimes abrasive.

Adam Bowman

Comment by acbowman

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