An identity crisis, a decade or two late

 

"Environmental ‘bad boys’ predict end of movement," reads The New York Times headline. The story is one of many in recent months about Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, rabble-rousing California media consultants who have sent environmentalists into a tizzy with their essay, "The Death of Environmentalism." The essay argues that environmentalists have become increasingly isolated from the general public, and that this isolation has sapped the movement’s strength.

Now, environmentalists everywhere seem to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Messages are pinballing about the Internet, activist groups are scrambling to powder up their public images, and Shellenberger and Nordhaus seem to be making a good living on the speakers’ circuit. It’s somewhat surprising, really. The message of "The Death of Environmentalism" has been bouncing around since the 1980s.

It was more than a decade ago that Westerners, weary of the endless courtroom battles over endangered species, old-growth logging and overgrazing, began to sit down and search for collective solutions to natural resource dilemmas. Since then, grassroots greens have shown that you don’t have to abandon your ideals, or stand back and watch the landscape be wrecked, to find common ground. It’s possible to stand up for the environment, and to create alliances with those who make their living on the land.

Nonetheless, some national environmental leaders continue to turn up their noses at this kind of cooperation. In the process, they’ve allowed themselves to be painted as elitists, and the purity of the air, water and land as a "fringe issue." The November 2004 election shows the power of this negative image: The League of Conservation Voters alone poured at least $15 million into the campaign, according to the Times, much of it to defeat Bush. It didn’t work.

So, by pointing out the problem, and suggesting a few solutions, Shellenberger and Nordhaus have done environmentalists a great favor. As the saying goes, sometimes your harshest critics are your best friends.

But, as Ray Ring reports in this issue’s cover story, solving the problem won’t be as simple as "re-branding" environmental groups to make them sound more appealing to the "average Joe." It will take real actions, hard work and genuine cooperation.

The cultural divide in the rural West — between old-timers and newcomers, between those who cross-country ski and those who drive snowmobiles, between those who have a college diploma and those who’ve gotten their education on the land — is real. To bridge that divide, we will all need to swallow some pride and really listen to each other. We will all need to remember that whether the struggle is over the health of the land, or the health of our neighbors, it’s not something we can walk away from.

High Country News Classifieds
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • COMMUNITY FORESTER
    The Clearwater Resource Council located in Seeley Lake, Montana is seeking a full-time community forester with experience in both fuels mitigation and landscape restoration. Resumes...
  • GUNNISON BASIN ROUNDTABLE
    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable is currently accepting letters of interest for ten elected seats. Five of the elected members must have relevant experience in the...
  • PCTA TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS IN WASHINGTON'S NORTH CASCADES
    Seasonal Positions: June 17th to September 16th (14 weeks) - 3 positions to be filled The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Job Title: Membership Director Supervisor: Executive Director Salary: Up to $65,000/year DOE Benefits: Generous benefits package — health insurance, Simple IRA and unlimited...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS MANAGER
    Who we are: Since 1985, the Grand Canyon Trust has been a leading voice in regional conservation on the Colorado Plateau. From protecting the Grand...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Walker Basin Conservancy Reno & Yerington, NV Background The Walker Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) leads the effort to restore and maintain Walker Lake while...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    They [Northern Plains] confound the common view that ordinary people are powerless in the face of industry. - Billings Gazette editorial The venerable Northern Plains...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Small home, 2 barns (one has an apartment), and more. Approx. two acres just in the City limits. Famously pure air...
  • FRESHWATER SCIENTIST
    The Freshwater Scientist provides technical and scientific support and leadership as a subject matter resource (SMR) for conservation initiatives in surface and groundwater hydrology including...
  • TAOS HORNO ADVENTURES
    A Multicultural Culinary Memoir Informed by History and Horticulture. Richard and Annette Rubin. At nighthawkpress.com/titles and Amazon.
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.