The New Environmentalism -- An ENN Commentary
Environmentalism is dead. That is the opinion of commentators Michael Shellenberger, a political strategist, and Ted Nordhaus, a pollster, whose self-published paper "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World" has caused considerable gnashing of teeth in the halls of the big environmental groups and the foundations that fund them. The report charges that the environmental movement has strikingly little to show for millions being spent to combat global warming. It broadly indicts the movement, it leaders and their strategy.
Former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach joined the chorus in December with a published speech in which he stated that "environmentalism is no longer capable of generating the power it needs to deal with the world's most serious ecological problems." Werbach, who at age 23 was the youngest person ever to lead the Sierra Club, went so far as to promise never to call himself an environmentalist again.
These two rants against the environmental movement are myopic and largely ignore the dramatic developments that are transforming modern environmental advocacy. A new environmentalism is being born.
The new environmentalism is focused not on federal regulation and policy or national political action but is rooted in a diverse set of less centralized actions.
A good example of the new environmentalism is the newly created Investor Network on Climate Risk that has been convened by the non-profit group Ceres (in the interest of full disclosure, I chair the board of directors of Ceres). The Network is a group of state and city treasurers and controllers, public and labor pension funds, and socially responsible investment funds representing more than seven billion dollars in assets. These investors are using the leverage of their assets to press for corporate disclosure and action to reduce the risks of global warming.
The new environmentalism can be seen in the growing number of states that are taking actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, in the absence of a federal policy on climate change, over half the states have taken some action including setting targets for emissions reductions, increasing the efficiency of energy systems or encouraging investments in renewable energy. Eighteen states have mandated that electric utilities generate a specified amount of electricity from wind, solar or other renewable sources.
A great example of the new environmentalism is the California law that will -- if it survives a court challenge by the auto manufacturers -- reduce the greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, and SUVs beginning as early as 2009.
The new environmentalism also can be found in the "corporate campaigns" of non-profit groups such as the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Recently, under pressure from RAN, Bank of America agreed to establish unprecedented targets and timelines for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions within its chain of investment activities and to take strong actions to protect intact forests and the rights of indigenous peoples.
The recent election demonstrated the local political muscle of the new environmentalism. Pro-environmental candidates from both major parties were elected. Candidates supported by the League of Conservation Voters won seven out of eight races. And, according to a post-election survey by the Trust for Public Land, over 100 communities in 25 states passed ballot measures funding $11 billion for conservation. Out of 161 environmental ballot measures nationwide, 120 passed -- a roughly 75% success rate.
Other signs of the new environmentalism are the growing inclusion of environmental issues in school curricula, the proliferation of international standards of environmental management and environmental reporting, the growing number of companies designing products and services with the environment in mind, and the growing number of creative international agreements for protecting the planet.
The new environmentalism most certainly faces enormous challenges and powerful enemies -- many of which I hope to address in this column in the months ahead.
However, reports of environmentalism's death are most certainly premature.
Norman L. Dean is executive director of Friends of the Earth and can be reached at NormanDean@foe.org.
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