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The death of environmentalism? October 27, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, public policy issues.
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A recent post by Rebecca on “is blogging dead” and a comment by Darren on that particular post (echoed by other commentators) made me remember that I once wrote a post about “The Death of Environmentalism”. Since it never made it past the drafts, I am now I’m resurrecting it in an updated form.

Now, to provide additional context, I just found out via Jonathon Colman from The Nature Conservancy that only 18% of survey respondents (I’m assuming all Americans) strongly believe that climate change is human-caused and harmful.

While I do hold my own opinion on the causes of climate change, that’s irrelevant for this discussion. The thing is that there seems to be a very small proportion of the population who believe in climate change (or at least, so would appear from the data shown). Now, the title of this post is associated with a paper by Schellenberger and Nordhaus titled “The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World”.

The gist of this paper (and surprisingly, the evidence presented by The Nature Conservancy) seems to suggest that American environmental NGOs have not had much success with galvanizing public opinion on climate change in the United States. If you read the work of Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap, they find increased support to the hypothesis that Conservatives have influenced public opinion on climate change (as a non-problem or a non-issue).

McCright, Aaron M., and Riley E. Dunlap. 2003. “Defeating Kyoto: The Conservative Movement’s Impact on U.S. Climate Change Policy.” Social Problems 50(3): 348-373.

But the thing is – regardless of whether it’s the ENGOs fault or the public’s fault (I don’t really want to blame anyone) – one of the main reasons why the Schellenberger and Nordhaus paper was so controversial is because it talked about “environmentalism being dead“. And I’m pretty sure that they intended for the paper to spark controversy (and make environmental NGOs try to work harder at educating the public about the need to adapt to climate change). That’s where I’m bringing the connection.

If you think about it (and as accurately said by the commentators on Rebecca’s site), the best way to spark a discussion about a topic is to say that X or Y is dead. Environmentalism is NOT dead. Much less here in Canada, and in Vancouver. For starters, Greenpeace started here! Environmental NGOs have a place and there is a need for them in the global environmental movement. The thing is, the Schellenberger and Nordhaus paper (as the other post mentioned by Rebecca) did serve to galvanize people, make them react to the issue and write about it.

Now, if we all did that about municipal and provincial politics in Vancouver and British Columbia, if we did that about climate change and other environmental issues in our own turf, THEN I think we would see a revival. And I’m hoping I’m contributing to this debate, and look forward to other’s contributions.



1. isabella mori - October 27, 2008

what irritates me about this X is dead idea is that it makes it sound like it’s got something to do with fashion. now i have to admit that i’m not a big fan of fashion to begin with (it always feels a bit small-minded to me) but i don’t think that’s the point. fashion is about things that come and go but – excuse me? the environment? how many decades does it take for a plastic bag to biodegrade? that’s a lot of fashion trends.

while it’s a bit skewed to set blogging beside the environment – my prediction is that the earth is going to last longer than the internet – i think the same applies. i honestly think that blogging is a literary form that will live on, in one shape or another. will it always be fashionable? most likely not. but that doesn’t make it “dead”.

2. Help save the Great Bear rainforest « Random Thoughts of a Student of the Environment - November 13, 2008

[…] you can see, environmentalism is not dead, is well alive and kicking! Please contribute with this worthy cause. You can also participate in a […]

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