From: James Quigley, Center for Sustainable Energy
Published March 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Environmentalism Hasn’t Died -- An ENN Commentary

When I was 13 years old my father, a clergyman, got involved in the civil rights movement. In 1964 he went south to join in the voter registration drives with a delegation from Ohio. He was called a "dirty northern liberal" among other things. One in his delegation, a Cleveland rabbi, was beaten within an inch of his life by Ku Klux Klan thugs. Later, back in Cleveland, he joined in the campaign to get Carl Stokes elected as the first African-American mayor of a large city. He was arrested in sit-ins and our family routinely received hate mail, hate phone calls and various threats. I was only a teenager but I knew this was big.

How does this, on a website devoted to "environmental" news, relate to its readers? Michael Shellenberger, a self-described political strategist, has launched a campaign to have Andrew Jackson replaced on the twenty-dollar bill with Martin Luther King, Jr. It is an inspired idea.

Shellenberger, now the executive director of the Breakthrough Institute and co-founder of the Apollo Alliance, has set the environmental movement abuzz with the paper he co-authored with Ted Nordhaus, a pollster and political strategist. Their paper, "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World," is a rebuke of the modern conservation and environmental movement for what the authors lament as painful incremenatlism.

With the impatience of youth, Shellenberger and Nordhaus have proclaimed that environmentalists have merely become a "special interest" and that modern environmentalism "must die so that something new can live."

Political movements have always experienced this dynamic. After Dr. King was assassinated in April of 1968-- also that fateful year Bobby Kennedy fell and anti-war riots marred the democratic convention in Chicago -- a new militancy grew from groups like the Black Panthers who castigated Dr. King for being too timid. Dr. King tarried on while the young firebrands, dressed in black leather and dark sunglasses, postured with firearms and denounced the racist status quo.


To some, Shellenberger and Nordhaus may be posturing, they may appear overwrought, they may have unfairly characterized the modern environmental movement and its leaders-- some of whom have been as impatient for change as Shellenberger and Nordhaus and were notably absent from the list of leaders they spoke with -- but these iconoclasts have correctly asserted that "environmentalism will never be able to muster the strength that it needs to deal with the global warming problem as long as it is seen as a 'special interest.'"

The underlining thesis of the Shellenberger and Nordhaus argument is that environmentalism must become a wider, more inclusive political force. When they observe that the radical right now controls the government as it guts environmental regulations and dismantles other traditionally "liberal" causes, they state the obvious. But the radical right managed to do this by weaving a coalition of anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro death penalty, xenophobic, homophobic, and religious fundamentalist interests who swallowed the lies their surrogates gave them about fiscal conservatism. Now that we have the largest deficit in history, and the dollar diminishes daily against world currencies, the current administration tried desperately to distract attention from this by inventing a "crisis" with social security. They can run but they can't hide.

More than ever environmentalists need to look around and remember who their natural allies have been and still remain-- labor, civil rights, the peace movement, the working class-- and recruit new allies from the declining ranks of Bush apologists now being alienated by the excesses of the right wing establishment. The Apollo Alliance is a fine example of breaking through and thinking bigger. Inspired by the mission to put a man on the moon, the new Apollo wants to put solar panels on every rooftop, wind farms in every windswept valley and coastline while powering transportation with renewable energy. Apollo's vision is an America that puts people to work in a sustainable economy that is free from the oppressive yoke of imported oil that impoverishes us while enriching Mid-east potentates who seem willing to finance the insurgents intent on killing U.S. forces on the streets of Baghdad.

Environmentalism isn't dead, and neither does it need to die. It just needs to be smarter, think bigger, build new alliances and, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus forcefully argue, invest so that a growing part of the economy sees its self interest tied to renewable energy and a stable global climate.


James Quigley, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy.

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