As Victoria mentioned in the last post, there was a degree of hand-wringing at this week’s Environmental Grantmakers Association. I sat in on a session about “Failures and Successes” where the conversation quickly turned to the disastrous outcomes of the Copenhagen conference followed by Congress’ ditching of major climate change legislation this year.
Was the world’s inertia on climate change a failure of the environmental movement to adequately articulate and activate the cause? The movement had come so close — just a couple countries in Copenhagen and just one filibuster in Congress away from major change on this contentious issue. Some people said that itself demonstrated success.
Others debated whether notions of “success” and “failure” should rest on short term outcomes. If persuading Copenhagen and Congress are seen as campaigns that require immediate outcomes, then clearly they were “failures.” But what if environmentalists and grantmakers don’t consider such discreet goals, but rather set their sites on longer term victories. Is the climate change debate a sprint or is a marathon?
Some said the environmental community has no choice but to press on and not let up. Deeming the recent setbacks as “failures” demoralizes the movement and keeps it from going the distance.
On a related topic, there was also a questioning of whether “climate change” or “global warming” are the best phrases to use now that they carry so much baggage from the political war with the right. Perhaps messaging should be directed instead towards smaller sets of interest groups — the energy independence crowd, the economic recovery through green jobs flock, the protect-our-wilderness herd.
Indeed lefty politicians have already taken that tactic. When was the last time you heard Obama talk about the consequences of climate change? When Barbara Boxer visited San Francisco a few weeks ago, she spoke patriotically about making green jobs in America. Can environmentalists win on climate change by never actually talking about it?
For Naomi Klein, this shunning of climate change verbiage is dangerous. Talk about energy independence and suddenly the conversation shifts to whether we should be drilling off-shore or mining tar sands or oil shales. Soon you’re playing whack-a-mole, she said, pounding down mountaintop removal in West Virginia while natural gas rigs pop up in Wyoming.
She has a point. How does a global movement around climate change build momentum when the issues are splintered? Is it so hard for the public to grasp the big picture? It’s done so before with terrorism and national security. As Klein explains, the problem is that environmentalists lack the ability to seize a crisis and move the public debate — as the right does — because they see doing so as “opportunistic” when, in fact, it makes sense for them to capitalize on the cause.
The Gulf oil spill – the largest environmental disaster in the nation’s history — is the latest opportunity going to waste.