Monday, September 15, 2008

Why the Greens Need Pragmatism

One of my favorite books on environmental policy is Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.  Although I don't agree with all of their policy solutions, that's the beauty of being a pragmatist - take the good, leave the rest.  What I think they do an amazing job of is laying out the problem with the modern environmentalist movement today -- and its focus on limiting people rather than empowering them as a means to deal with pollution.  

This book also gives a great explanation for how funders - with the best intentions, often end up creating a market force FOR conflict and high rhetoric, rather than a reward for pragmatic bridge-building.  

I checked back in on the BreakThrough website and saw a number of articles worth looking at.  
Click the following link to check out the latest at The BreakThrough Institute.  In particular, there was an article about the rapid change in politics on the oil drilling/climate issue that made me think.  The point of that article was to chronicle how fast the politics changed this past summer.  It quotes Democratic leaders as confident about passing comprehensive climate legislation, only to end the summer by looking for ways to expand drilling opportunities as a means to appease the public on high gas prices.

There are several interesting points of discussion in this article.  But the one that really struck me was how this recent history should be a big piece of proof to green groups everywhere that you MUST adopt a more pragmatic, solution-based focus if you want the environmental issue to survive high energy prices and an economy in turmoil.

It may be that the green groups were able to get away with partisan Bush-bashing (I'm not saying I'm a fan of Bush's environmental policies here - I'm definitely not!) and the rhetoric of the pure while times were good and people had disposable income to spend on organic, everything-free products that are sustainably made and only grown by farmers dedicated to not making a profit.  But times have changed - and we are likely to be dealing with a bad economy and high energy prices for some time now.  If enviros want their issue to have staying power beyond being the latest yuppie fad, they have to be willing to Gasp, compromise and work with people that don't already agree with them.  

Now I know many of the green groups claim to have this as a goal.  But preaching to people who don't agree with you doesn't count.  And for groups that are really trying to reach out, it must be recognized that you need to be willing to speak the other side's language -- to recognize their concerns from time to time (i.e. the concern about the cost to the economy of a climate change plan).  Green groups need to understand that they are largely comprised of people who have nothing in common with those who don't agree with them -- and certainly the language they use on this issue is far from objective and carries baggage that many well-meaning enviros don't even realize they are inflicting.  

The point is, recognize this weakness and recruit guides to help make the transition.  Reach out to people that walk in both worlds (trust me, they DO exist) and ask them to help you formulate messaging that will not get the figurative door closed on your group before you even get through the first meeting.  

I know this is a long shot -- because by and large, people LIKE to feel superior far more than they like getting things done.  It seems to be a sad bi-partisan truth about us humans.  

But just maybe if we recognize the problem, we can begin to fix it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Finding Green Balance

A good friend sent me a link to an interesting article I recommend to you.  The article is titled It's Not Crazy Being Green" and you can read it by clicking on the title.  The article talks about the needless differentiation between "the environment" and "the people" and how the modern environmentalist movement has become a partisan battle over purity rather than what it always should have been:  an understanding that the environment and the people are irrevocably linked.  

The health of a people IS in large part due to the health of the environment in which they live. If you have any doubt about this -- take a look at developing country that has not yet dealt with environmental pollution to any real degree.  Would you want to live there?

So how do you go from a relatively non-controversial point -- like saying we all live in our environment, so of course we care about its pollution, into the partisan divide we see before us today where nearly every environmentalist group is a liberal one and conservative groups take turns highlighting the latest infringement of freedom that the environmentalists are proposing?  

I don't have all the answers -- but it seems to me that part of the problem is that we allow issues to be too easily defined by others with agendas that have little to do with the named issue.  The problem is fed by the human tendency to gather in groups that are alike.  My rule of thumb these days in evaluating an advocacy organization -- is this:  How much are they really trying to reach out to those who don't agree with them?  For many groups working on the environment, the answer is, they aren't!  

One way to begin to change this dynamic is through the "marketplace" if you will for non-profits that work on environmental issues.  In your personal giving, make it clear that you are giving to organizations that are working to bridge the divide.  And on the larger front, write to foundations that give large amounts of money to environmental groups encouraging them to fund cooperative, educational, bridge-building work rather than partisan, feel-good attack dogs.

One thing is for sure, if funders demand results rather than rhetoric, they will start getting it.  And then the environment would truly be better off.