In a few days, I will be off for a week of exploring/fact-finding in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. While I normally don't consider my personal travels to be newsworthy, I share this with Gristmill readers because Chhattisgarh is a classic example of why environmental governance in countries like India is so difficult -- and why government statistics about the environment in developing countries can rarely be relied on. Chhattisgarh is one of the forgotten parts of India. Despite representing almost 1/10th of India's landmass and containing 22 million people, it might as well be in another universe -- not just from the perspective of the outside world (crack open your 1,000-page Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to India and you will be lucky to find even a page or two on Chhattisgarh) but to India's own government. Even the hyperactive newspapers in major metros rarely mention news from or post reporters in Chhattisgarh, which is India's most forested state (officially), with 44% forest cover, and has perhaps India's richest overall bounty of natural resources. The state is also home to a 32% tribal population, a community suffering some of the most extreme poverty and with among the lowest literacy rates in India, barely 20% in many areas.
In my previous post, I noted some of the things we've done right as a movement. But as those who read my first two posts know, I think we're doing a lot of things wrong as well. For example, lets take GMOs -- I want to build on Andy's excellent post from yesterday. GMOs have been been a "Great Satan" of the environmental movement for some time now. And its not the goal of this post to say that GMOs are by any means universally necessary or desireable. But I do want to talk about the ways in which many environmentalists are oversimplifying a complex issue -- and hurting our credibility with the people who are aware of those complexities.
Well, I'm glad that I was able to start a spirited (and occasionally even polite) discussion with my previous posts on enviroliberalism (here and here). However, despite my repeated denials, some posters seemed to think that I was blaming environmentalism for a variety of ills or hostile to the environmental movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. I just don't think that it is particularly useful or interesting for us to sit here "talking" about how wonderful we all are and how misguided/foolish/evil everyone else is. Nor do I think it is useful to pursue a general strategy of enviroliberalism, as I think it limits both our alliances and our policy visions. I've admired Grist for its willingness to think outside these traditional frameworks, which is why I was interested in writing here.
A couple of quick prefatory remarks -- several readers interpreted my earlier posting as an attack on liberalism. That was not my intent at all: While I am not a liberal, as the saying goes, "Some/most of my best friends are liberals." The only goal of the previous posting, and the one that follows, is to suggest the harm that comes from automatically coupling liberalism with environmentalism. In my previous post, I discussed our movement's international problems. But back in America, we're not doing much better. When the American environmental movement began, Lake Erie was on fire, the bald eagle was on the verge of extinction, and L.A. was choking on its own smog. When environmental regulations seemed to reduce these problems, the public was all for them. But as regulations multiplied, environmentalism became associated in many minds with costly regulatory expenditures, failed Superfund clean-ups, and lots of bureaucratic red tape. Big government enviroliberalism took over a grassroots movement. Why should liberalism be the Siamese twin of environmentalism? If I am pro-life, against affirmative action, or for private accounts in Social Security, does that mean I don't care about protecting forest ecosystems or saving blue whales?
Hi ... my name is Jeremy Carl, and I'll be guest-blogging here for the next couple of weeks. I'm currently a Visiting Fellow in resource and development economics at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India. I spent several years in the private sector and then a few more working with various environmental organizations in the states before moving here, where I spend my time researching and writing about various aspects of the enormous environment/development conundrum in India and China. In the fall, I'm leaving India to head off to Stanford to do a doctorate, continuing the work I have begun here. For now, I'm going to use my bully pulpit to talk a little bit about my frustrations with our movement, where I think we are going wrong, and hopefully, what we can do to get back on the right track. I imagine I may tread on some toes -- but I hope we can have a spirited and respectful discussion. I think modern American environmentalism commits two deadly sins: First, we are way too focused on domestic problems (thinking only locally and acting only locally). And second, I think environmentalism is far too monolithically liberal, which both hurts us politically and also impedes our ability to come up with good policy solutions. I'll focus on the first problem today and the second in a follow-up tomorrow.