J500 Media and the Environment

Did Al Gore doom the environmental movement? by Lauren Keith

by Mohamed Sami, energytribune.com

“This isn’t a political issue. This is a moral issue,” the former politician claimed triumphantly.

“Woo!” I called out from my theater chair, pumping my fist in the air like I was Captain Planet, ready to combine the five element rings. “You’re damn right!”

I looked around for some support from the rest of the audience, 90 percent of which was made up of half-empty cups of flat Coke and overturned popcorn buckets from the last movie that played. My fellow planeteers were nowhere in sight, even though I could have sworn that I saw Heart ducking down in the front row, apparently a little embarrassed by my outburst.

I thought my Heart was in the right place.

So I decided that if the audience wouldn’t come to the movie theater, I would have the movie theater come to the audience. I set up screenings of the documentary and invited everyone that I had even remotely come in contact with to come watch it.

Some showed up. A few of my Republican friends gave me the stink-eye when I told them what it was. “More like Al Snore,” they said.

People came and went. I gave complimentary recycle cans to people for hanging out with me, but they still didn’t seem too interested in anything Gore or I had to say.

Unfortunately, 22 showings later, I still couldn’t pinpoint why no one cared.

And then Media and the Environment dawned on me.

Environmental storytellers have a hard time connecting the dots that the audience needs to have connected for them. We tell people to recycle, to save the Amazon, to quit breathing so often, but we hardly tell them the most relevant part: why it’s important.

I don’t shop at The Merc to save the polar bears. I don’t make my roommates unplug the microwave (and soon the refrigerator, they joke) because the glaciers are melting. I do it so we can save ourselves.

We are so used to people being able to string the concepts together themselves that we don’t realize that this time we need to be the ones providing the glue of the conversation.

We are the eco-friendly adhesives.

It saddens me that a more expensive case of Bud Select has my friends more worried about the state of the environment than a carbon dioxide graph did, but I’m ready to meet them where they are: at the grocery store.

Al Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth” didn’t doom the environmental movement.

Leonardo DiCaprio and “The 11th Hour” didn’t doom the environmental movement.

Our (PowerPoint) presentation doomed the environmental movement.

Until environmentalists can reframe their argument and make the environment relevant to the general public, it will be our movement’s 11th hour.

—Lauren Keith

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8 Comments so far
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I don’t know if I agree with this post. Especially this part:

“I don’t shop at The Merc to save the polar bears. I don’t make my roommates unplug the microwave (and soon the refrigerator, they joke) because the glaciers are melting. I do it so we can save ourselves.”

Frankly, in my opinion, that’s the exact attitude that environmentalism ought to combat.

Comment by Bryson Nitta


I understand the underlying selfishness of that statement, but people won’t want to engage in environmental conversation if we don’t acknowledge people’s everyday struggles.

Because most of us don’t see polar bears, the ice caps, the Amazon and many other environmental jewels on this planet, they lose relevance to the average person when he goes to the grocery store and is trying to decide between buying traditional or buying organic.

That’s why I think we environmentalists need to rethink how we approach people and spread the message about saving the planet. Not everyone is going to care about polar bears or biodiversity loss, but they are going to care about themselves, their communities and future generations.

If we frame environmentalism in a way that promotes their interests while maintaining ours, we’ve saved two birds with one stone.

Sorry for the speech, but I appreciate your comment.


Comment by Lauren Keith

Hmm…I understand from where you’re coming. But I still disagree.

I agree with a lot of people who suggest that the heart of the environmental crisis is the egocentrism that has evolved out of modernist theories of ontology and epistemology. Only in the last few hundred years have humans been able to so radically separate themselves from the natural world. This has been described as the “death of nature,” “the end of nature,” “the desacralization of nature.”

But no matter what term is used, it hearkens back to one essential point: modern understanding of being is essentially dichotomous. Humans are X, nature is Y, and never the twain shall meet. Modern science and empiricism has led us to believe in a subject-object dualism. Thus, we are able to justify our vision of nature as a resource to be used, not an entity that itself is worthy of respect.

Rarely have I heard someone working for, say, food security in Africa say, “I’m not helping these people because I care about them; I’m helping them because if I don’t, I’ll lose out.” In fact, if someone ever did say that publicly, I think there’d be more than a little bit of shock and anger towards that person.

Why? Because in that statement, they’ve negated the inherent and unique value of a human being. Yes, they’re still there, aiding those who need their help. But their attitude is abhorrent, and many would argue, ultimately self-defeating.

Environmentalism is, at its core, a path that asks humans to extend their notions of being towards other organisms other than themselves. Polar bears and glaciers and mountains, valleys and streams and bald eagles, wheat and cows and fishes, all of these interact with us. All of them leave a distinct, important mark on our very being. We participate in the objects of our perception, as they say.

And once we begin to realize our individuality is not inherent, but rather, the result of relationships (thus, ultimately, something not our own), I think we’ll be much the better. Saying that we need to help the environment to help ourselves is not going to bring us farther down that path.

Heh, so, now I’m the one that needs to apologize for the speech. 😛

And I know that talking about all this will probably not happen on a national or international scale. But if we’re to be environmentalists, we ought to be at least moving towards a better philosophic outlook ourselves if we’re to eventually lead our species that way, as well. You know?

Comment by Bryson Nitta


I know what you’re saying: It’s sad that it takes a personal “crisis” (rising beer/food costs) to get people on board. Sad, but at least it works for them, so I really can’t complain.

My issue, though, is with the “re-framing” that Werbach is pushing. I mean, how do we avoid simply handing over the “movement” to the very people who previously just told us that they don’t really care about these issues?

Bottom line, I guess, is that it takes several approaches. Some people (like me) do fall for those “bigger picture” selling points; others get on board only when it affects their pocketbook…to each his/her own.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed reading your posts all semester. I hope you keep up with this line of blogging. Good luck! (And don’t watch that movie anymore…you deserve a completely brain-free film festival: Ashton Kutcher movies only!)


Comment by rarab


I agree with what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s the message that environmentalists can use to bring the masses or the “average” person to our side. I completely agree with you and hate the fact that we see nature as nothing more than a resource and that we live in a human-created, artificial environment. I’m starting to question whether humans were even a good idea for this planet (I’m currently reading “The World Without Us,” but unfortunately haven’t gotten too far into it yet).

But also unfortunately, most people won’t connect with my obsession with the gloom-and-doom scenario. That’s why I think that we need to reframe our message and meet them where they are. This, however, does NOT mean that environmentalists should in any way compromise their values and what the movement stands for, but we should acknowledge that there was a point in time when we hadn’t yet gone on our green journey.

How long did it take you to make the connections between humans and their impact on the environment and the realization of the importance of nature? It’s taken me three years, and I don’t think I’m full-fledged yet.

So how can we expect people who don’t care about the environment to suddenly wake up and reduce their ecological footprints, stop reproducing (as much), stop consuming, etc.?

That’s where we need to rethink the connections that we are drawing and whether we’ve even done a good job drawing them. I can tell my friends all about Kansas bees dying or how much the aquifer has been drained, but until I make it relevant to them (explaining how there will be less food if there are no bees and no water), then they will finally be engaged in the conversation and start to relate to nature.

Environmentalists should stop driving on the greener-than-thou road. It’s no wonder people aren’t following us. We need to meet people where they are and take them on the same journey that we’ve already taken.


Comment by Lauren Keith

[…] So, without further ado, here’s the link to the blog post itself. […]

Pingback by Shallow or Deep Ecology? « The Third Wave

I made a post about our discussion here:


In any case, it sort of sums up how I feel. Hope you check it out!

Comment by Bryson Nitta

Here is an idea think like Ford or GM trying to sell their cars. These guys like other vendors have been trying to figure this out for ages.
They seem to have settled on three different approaches and probably in this order:
1) Cheaper
2) Appeal to vanity
3) Quality
We know that in our society these approaches work, it’s tried and tested so use it for Green.

Approach Green like any other marketing guy would.


Comment by rvewong

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