April 9th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Why did Terri Schiavo have to die?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Welfare to work: serious changes needed

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Trade and Australia's farm dependent economy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Infrastructure back on the agenda

FILM CLASSIFICATION: Report whitewashes declining film standards

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Australia, Indonesia to negotiate new treaty

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Relearning Federalism / 'New' thoughts on marijuana / Kofi's whitewash

Neglect of public infrastructure (letter)

New deal for superannuation (letter)

Compelling case for rail transport (letter)

Selling the nation's assets (letter)

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: The Labor Split - 50 years on

FAMILY: AFA calls for adopting parents to be married

FAMILY LAW: Family Court 'a monstrosity'

BIOETHICS: Australian stem cell breakthrough - adult nose cells pluripotent

OPINION: Pot goes in the too-hard basket

ENVIRONMENT: The death of environmentalism?

BOOKS: OUTRAGE: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage

BOOKS: LIBERATION'S CHILDREN: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age

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The death of environmentalism?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 9, 2005
In the United States, there is now a major controversy over a paper, published by two environmentalists, called The Death of Environmentalism, with the two authors being roundly condemned by many of their former associates.

In their paper, authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus referred to "the hundreds of millions of dollars we have poured into the global warming issue", but said that it had largely been wasted.

Mr Shellenberger is a strategist for foundations, organisations and political candidates. In 2003, he co-founded the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labour, environment, business, and civil rights leaders working to win passage of a New Apollo Project to create three million new energy jobs and free America from foreign oil in 10 years, by investing in new green forms of alternative energy.

Public opinion

Ted Nordhaus is vice-president of Evans/McDonough, one of America's leading opinion research firms, and has also been involved in the Apollo Project.

In writing their article, Shellenberger and Nordhaus interviewed more than 25 of the environmental community's top leaders, thinkers and funders.

They said: "Over the last 15 years, environmental foundations and organisations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into combating global warming. We have strikingly little to show for it.

"From the battles over higher fuel-efficiency for cars and trucks to the attempts to reduce carbon emissions through international treaties, environmental groups repeatedly have tried and failed to win national legislation that would reduce the threat of global warming.

"As a result, people in the environmental movement today find themselves politically less powerful than we were one and a half decades ago."

The authors argued that "talking about the millions of jobs that will be created by accelerating our transition to a clean energy economy offers more than a good defence against industry attacks: it's a frame that moves the environmental movement away from apocalyptic global warming scenarios that tend to create feelings of helplessness and isolation among would-be supporters."


They said that a crucial defeat suffered by the environmental movement in America was a US Senate vote against the Kyoto Protocol of 95 to 0.

"The size of this defeat can't be overstated," they said. "In exiting the Clinton years with no law to reduce carbon emissions - even by a minuscule amount - the environmental community has no more power or influence than it had when Kyoto was negotiated."

Behind this, they saw a string of major policy failures.

These began with the failure to adopt the policy advanced by George Bush Snr at the Climate Conference in Rio, that the US would limit its carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2012.

It was followed by environmentalists' criticism of Bill Clinton, who supported voluntary controls on CO2 emissions, and later, criticism of Al Gore, the Democrats' candidate in 2000, "who was one of the country's strongest and most eloquent environmentalists."

They said: "The public campaign against Gore generated headlines but inspired neither greater risk-taking by politicians nor emboldened the Vice President.

"Instead, the author of Earth in the Balance [Al Gore] spent much of the 2000 race downplaying his green credentials in the false hope that in doing so he would win over undecided voters."

Another failure involved efforts to get the American automobile industry to build better, more efficient cars.

The authors' criticism of the environmental movement is partly contradictory. On the one hand, they point out that it has not had a sufficiently ambitious agenda to inspire a vision which is so widely shared that it forces change.

On the other hand, the authors argue that the environmental movement is committed to "technical fixes" to particular environmental problems, particularly the greenhouse effect, rather than demanding the massive policy changes which would solve the problems.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus say: "The environmental movement's technical policy orientation has created a kind of myopia: everyone is looking for short-term policy pay-off.

"We could find nobody who is crafting political proposals that, through the alternative vision and values they introduce, create the context for electoral and legislative victories down the road.

"Almost every environmental leader we interviewed is focused on short-term policy work, not long-term strategies," they said.

  • Peter Westmore

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