In light of the recent elections, a lot of environmentalists and other progressives are asking, "What went wrong?" Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus believe they have the answer. And I think they're on to something.
The Death of Environmentalism, their recently published paper (download from The Breakthrough Institute), is a compelling indictment of the modern environmental movement from two of its own. The paper was published a few weeks before the election, but subsequent events have made its call to action more timely than ever.
In their treatise, they argue that "modern environmentalism is no longer capable of dealing with the world's most serious ecological crisis." The reasons are many and varied, and their readable 35-page paper lays them out well. In short, the problem is that today's environmental leaders are addressing tomorrow's problems with yesterday's tools: regulatory and policy fixes. And because serious global problems like climate change and the looming water crisis have been narrowly defined as "environmental," their equally narrow solutions are easy to marginalize and dismiss by conservatives, cynics, and other nonbelievers.
Shellenberger and Nordhaus suggest that the time is ripe for U.S. environmental leaders to "take a collective step back to rethink everything." Specifically: how to reframe issues and build coalitions around big ideas and values, not specific programs, much as the conservative movement has done over the past 40 years. To do this will require moving beyond pure environmentalism to join forces with civil rights, labor, and progressive businesses -- all of whom stand to lose by the current rightward leaning of the electorate, and all of whom stand to gain by a well-thought-out effort to recast climate change and other issues beyond that of planetary doom and gloom.
Not surprisingly, Shellenberger and Nordhaus have a solution: the Apollo Alliance (which Shellenberger and others formed earlier this year), a coalition within the labor, environmental, business, urban, and faith communities "in support of good jobs and energy independence."
Self-serving, perhaps, but earnest. The Death of Environmentalism offers an intriguing view of what's wrong . . . and what's possible. Companies, nonprofits, and others would do well to read it and join in on the debate about how to create an innovative, compelling, and effective strategy for transforming the national conversation about the what, up to now, has been referred to as "the environment."