New Tactics for the Environment

(By Paul C. Pritchard) “The environmental movement is dead,” some in Ecotopia declare. Unfortunately, some of us didn’t get the message.

“The environmental movement is dead,” some in Ecotopia declare. Unfortunately, those of us in the communities and on the Eastern Front didn’t get the message. So, we continue to fight on in a lot of different fields, thinking somehow we can make a difference.

Some history might be useful.

Most agree that the modern environmental movement began with Earth Day, 1970, signaling a new tactic--when saving the environment was most efficiently addressed by looking for federal solutions like the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, etc. Unlike prior times, the “federal solution” meant solving a national issue with federal laws, federal funding, and federal enforcement by an agency and in the courts. State solutions it was found were too costly for the limited resources of the few environmental warriors.

The success of this “federal solution” is evident. The failure was manifold: leaving our state and local grassroots behind, learning how to lobby (and therefore look like, smell like”¦) the big guys in Washington, and creating a legal system that was and is very vulnerable to a president like Bush and a Congress like the one we now have.

Looking back, the beginning of the end of this tactic was when we successfully fought off James Watt. As one of the Gang of Ten who fought the dark force of James Watt, we thought we did pretty well in the 1980s. But the broader social agenda, the zeitgeist, was moving away from us. Furthermore, Watt had determined how to stop or slow down the laws and agencies in Washington, DC. Only his mouth saved us.

Now some would argue that we just need to re-connect with the labor, the peace, and the civil rights”¦ movements. But these allies of the past are also struggling, looking for new tactics. They too relied on the “federal solution.” (You could even credit the Civil Rights Movement with inventing it.) And now these allies need to craft new tactics like we do. For example, the labor movement member today looks more like my children’s teachers than my brother-in-law who retired from GM.

Fussing and feuding about the failures of the past seems futile. The key is to realize that we need to focus on our long-range goals and devise new tactics for achieving the goals.

For example, one new tactic for saving land has been the incredibly successful land trust movement which has come into its own as a force for the environment.

The National Park Trust, one privately funded land trust charity, bought and saved a national park unit by making it a privately owned national park. It has quietly worked to save lands, “inholdings,” in over 100 national and state parks and national refuges.

Another example. Energy conservation groups like the Apollo Alliance are finding new tactics of working with the private sector, any ally, to transform America’s energy losses.

Water is a third area where the joint commitment of a charity and a private investor, the Concern for Kids and The Crestline Corporation, has created a way of solving one of the most important world challenges, clean, drinkable water.

The tactics of the past that were largely built on the “federal solution” are not being thrown out. Rather, these conservation tactics may take advantage of federal tactics and building on them, investment tax credits, conservation easements, etc.

Maybe the “movement” is not dead, just in need of new tactics. In the meantime, some of us will keep on fighting while the new thinkers and soldiers come up with the new solutions that reinforce those on the Fronts.

Paul Pritchard is Founder and President of the National Park Trust.

Source: An ENN Commentary