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The Failures of the Environmental Community

by gmoke Mon Feb 4th, 2013 at 11:57:39 PM EST

The failures of the environmental community have been
(a) giving up on a "no regrets" strategy that concentrates on all the things the majority can agree on whether or not they believe in "global warming"
(b) concentrating on legislative and regulatory action to the exclusion of grassroots empowerment through practical demonstrations of individual and community solutions
(c) not building a united front of organizations all pushing in the same direction at the same time and actually executing a common strategy long-term through a battery of complementary tactics short-term (the environmental community is notorious for not knowing the difference between strategy and tactics)
(d) motivating almost exclusively by fear and thereby building learned helplessness and despair rather than fostering individual and community competence
(e) focusing almost totally on a problem orientation rather than a solutions orientation

Other failures include refusing to capitalize on prior success (almost everything the environmental has actually gotten enacted - clean water, clean air, removal of lead from gasoline, toxics use reduction and directory, acid rain, ozone depletion...);  refusal to learn from history (not continually pointing out forcefully that the arguments against climate change action are the same arguments used against ozone depletion action and against tobacco action...).

I am not saying that the environmental community (whatever you consider that to be) should give up on legislative and regulatory activity.  What I am saying is what I've learned from my martial arts teachers:  "Use everything!"  Eco/enviro/greenies need to do everything they can in every venue they can find, from the personal to the international, from citizen to citizen to government to government.  So far, we haven't.  This is working with one hand tied behind our backs and a boxing glove on the other.

I offer this criticism not to be negative but to point people in positive directions.  My proposals for positive actions can be read at How to Change US Energy in One Growing Season (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/05/27/870257/-How-to-Change-US-Energy-in-One-Growing-Season), My Solutions to Climate Change (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/26/1136484/-My-Solutions-to-Climate-Change), and, last but not least, I've been promoting the idea that Solar IS Civil Defense (http://solarray.blogspot.com/2012/04/solar-is-civil-defense-what-we-are-all.html) for at least a decade now.

These thoughts began as a comment on Theda Skocpol's analysis of the failure of cap and trade legislation in President Obama's first term:

For those in the Boston area, there are two upcoming events where you can engage on these issues with Theda Skocpol:

Climate Change and Social Action
WHEN  Mon., Feb. 11, 2013, 4 - 5:30 p.m.
WHERE  Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy Street, Cambridge
GAZETTE CLASSIFICATION    Environmental Sciences, Ethics, Humanities, Lecture, Science, Social Sciences, Special Events, Sustainability
ORGANIZATION/SPONSOR    Harvard University Center for the Environment
SPEAKER(S)  Stephen Ansolabehere, Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Marshall Ganz, Harvard Kennedy School; Rebecca Henderson, Harvard Business School; Andrew Hoffman, University of Michigan; Theda Skocpol, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Moderated By:
Daniel Schrag, Faculty of Arts and Sciences; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
TICKET INFO  Admission is free. No tickets or RSVP required. Event entry based on space availability.
CONTACT INFO    617.495.8883, lisa_matthews@harvard.edu
NOTE  What is the role of social action in confronting climate change? What role can a grassroots environmental movement play in sustaining long-term action? What can those concerned with climate change learn from other social movements? Learn more about the event at: environment.harvard.edu...
LINK    http://environment.harvard.edu/social-action

Thursday, February 14, 2013
4:15-6:15 pm,
Tsai Auditorium, Harvard University, CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

What lessons can be learned from recent successes and failures including the "cap and trade" effort to win legislated limits for carbon emissions in 2009 and 2010?   What are the next steps in the fight for public policies to limit emissions and encourage climate-friendly U.S. economic growth?
Sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism and the Scholars Strategy Network, Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism
Panelists: Theda Skocpol
Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University; Director of the Scholars Strategy Network
Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation
Gene Karpinski, President of the League of Conservation Voters
Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
Lee Wasserman, Director of the Rockefeller Family Fund

Open to the public.  RSVP not required.  Wheelchair accessible.  This event will be videotaped.  
Questions:  Abby Peck peck@wjh.harvard.edu

Can the environmental movement learn to use everything?
. yes 20%
. no 40%
. not yes 0%
. not no 20%
. neither yes nor no 0%
. both yes and no 0%
. don't understand the question? 20%
. none of the above 0%

Votes: 5
Results | Other Polls
Though I voted "yes" I have to admit that (d) has been true for me; I'm frequently fatalistic about people ever getting it together in time to save the bulk of the living things on the planet from near extinction. This is especially true when I see intelligent people, including some relatives, who really don't "get" it, who think Michael Crighton is a credible source on the subject ("hellooo... FICTION.") and who are simply ignoring the existence of a problem.

Maybe I voted "yes" because I think they CAN use everything in the arsenal, but I just don't believe there's enough time left for it to be effective enough to prevent wholesale, nearly-unmitigatable disaster.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Feb 5th, 2013 at 09:31:35 AM EST

I'm at the top of the graph and still going up.

"You get to the top of the hill, and the car is still going up."
-Bill Cosby, "Driving in San Francisco"

sapere aude

by Number 6 on Tue Feb 5th, 2013 at 10:36:19 AM EST
If we just weren't PEOPLE...

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Tue Feb 5th, 2013 at 11:54:34 AM EST
I have a martial arts teacher who has the same attitude.  The problem is PEOPLE!  Suspect you both are right.

Solar IS Civil Defense
by gmoke on Tue Feb 5th, 2013 at 09:03:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apart from the sociopaths, people are fine. But people need good leadership, education, and outreach - and lots of it.

And the challenge is there's a minority with vested interests and plenty of resources who want to make sure that good leadership, education and outreach aren't available. Worse, they're more than happy to poison the discourse with blatant lies, to poison democracy by buying it, and to poison the ecosystem for personal gain.

Those people are a problem. If they were removed from power, decent policy would be possible.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Feb 6th, 2013 at 06:26:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think most of what you describe stems from (c). Without long-term organisation and long-term goals you get a number of reactive movements, and reactive movements has the short-comings you describe. Nothing wrong with reactive movements as such, most movements start out that way. The reaction against something going wrong can be powerful. But in the long term constructive action is needed to change the roots of the problems.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Wed Feb 6th, 2013 at 02:06:43 PM EST
I think the problem has changed. In the 1960s, the environmental issues were pollution, overfishing, forest infringement, industrial farming, global thermonuclear war, etc. Some headway was made on some of them, and some not so much.

Currently the discussions about climate change, global carrying capacity, and population crash are held at the same sort of scale and intensity as was used in the 1960s--or maybe lower. THAT is what needs to change. Except for the danger of nuclear destruction (a battle lost by the environmental community, for the most part), those previous problems were small potatoes.

When there are a few sequential years of large crop failures, or a widespread and lethal influenza epidemic, or a jump up in global temperatures when the La Nina lets go (probably this year), it seems likely that popular opinion will shift in response. Yep, people are reactive.

Question is whether there is actually time to react strongly enough to prevent the likely catastrophe...

by asdf on Sat Feb 9th, 2013 at 07:45:51 PM EST
I think the problem has changed. In the 1960s, the environmental issues were pollution, overfishing, forest infringement, industrial farming, global thermonuclear war, etc. Some headway was made on some of them, and some not so much.

before nixon's EPA what enviro-protection was there?

america set the tone back then, and europe slowly followed suit, with rivers cleaned, beaches held to new standards etc.

now with fracking all that progress seems like it's being destroyed before our eyes, and meanwhile countries like china have emulated the worst of our bad habits and the cat's out of the bag, amplifying the problem.

it looks like nukes are on their last legs finally, but a year ago it was much harder to be sanguine about them.

of course if we don't push renewables very hard, we will asphyxiate instead of being melted down or getting the bequerel blues.

it has taken a half century to move the issue this far to centre stage, with billions spent to confound and confuse people into thinking TINA to the status quo.

it's a nail-biter whether we make it through, but diaries like this help a lot. we need to keep laying it down without hype, and the truth will bear us out, as it is, just at a glacial speed. (ouch)

the whole nightmare is based on the mass's ignorance, and thanks to blogs like this one, knowledge is spreading like wildfire...(ouch again)

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Feb 10th, 2013 at 09:09:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the kind words.  I appreciate it.

The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party at their general meeting last November said something very interesting:  China can not progress the way the West has because there are not enough Earths to allow that to happen.  That they recognized this reality and expressed it this way is a very good sign, to me.

China is a country that has such a large population expecting so many things that they have to do everything and they do.  However, there are clear signs that the leadership and many of the people know they can't continue as they are.  The recent air quality emergencies in major cities drive this point home.

However, India may be another question and Indonesia, which I have read is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is not even part of the discussion in these United States.  At least India is part of the conversation around these parts.  What I worry about is what we aren't paying attention to.

We need to concentrate on advanced energy efficiency as the IEA suggests and short lived climate forcers as the UNEP recommends.  That buys us enough time, possibly, to shift to a zero emissions, renewable economy.

Solar IS Civil Defense

by gmoke on Mon Feb 11th, 2013 at 03:31:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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