Today is Part V of Ken Ward’s response to “The Death of Environmentalism,” in which he concludes by laying out concrete steps the movement could take to mount an appropriate response to the danger of global warming. It’s a bold strategy — curious to hear what readers think of it.

Don’t forget to read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

A Response to “Death of Environmentalism”: Part V: Conclusion and Road Forward

by Ken Ward

There are other significant factors that reduce our effectiveness, some identified in other responses to S&N. One is the sophisticated public relations drive to displace the sharp definition of environmentalism as an ethos with a fuzzy green good feeling that can be worn by corporations and politicians at will and is available to anyone who recycles. We must also reckon with the steady, venomous drip of attacks on our motives and integrity for which — with the exception of a projects like PR Watch, which operated on limited funds — we have no means as a movement to monitor, respond to, or launch effective counter-attacks against.

Setting aside the why’s and the wherefore’s, the key conclusion of S&N is true. Environmentalists do not have the capacity to significantly alter U.S. policy on climate change. Anyone who takes a good look at the future towards which we are rushing comes away shaken and changed. Here is Ross Gelbspan as Kurtz:

The tragedy underlying the failure of the activist community lies in the fact that so many talented, dedicated and underpaid people are putting their hearts and lives on the line — in ways that will make little if any difference to the climate crisis.

It’s broke, but we can fix it. After all, who looks at a faltering institution and neglects to consider any remedial actions before throwing the whole enterprise into the dustbin? The failure to do so, it seems to me, is the biggest complaint that can leveled at “Death of Environmentalism.”

The labor movement is forging a powerful example. A smart, tough leadership is forcing change within an institution far more sclerotic than ours. Their task is made easier by a more apparent crisis, an existing infrastructure, and mechanisms for collective decisionmaking. Only internal factors, however, prevent the environmental movement from restructuring itself around a more straightforward agenda to build power and undertaking the kind of effort necessary to force action on a true climate change agenda in America.

In theory, the necessary decisions could be made in a weekend conference with less than 100 people in attendance. The agenda for action could cover just a handful of actions. The numbers would have to be worked through, but a reasonable approach would peg total cost at the combined major party candidate expenses in the 2004 Presidential campaign.

The following steps would build a credible U.S. campaign on climate change:

  1. Decision-making
    • Form a centralized green group council with the authority to speak on behalf of the environmental movement and power to create centralized support services.
    • Agree to undertake a coordinated campaign on the climate crisis with a minimum commitment of 50% of each organization’s resources.
  2. Staffing & Building the Core
    • Launch a recruitment drive with the goal of 2,000 new staff recruited and trained.
    • Undertake an internet-based drive to identify core environmentalists, offering stipends for lead coordinators. Bring this group together online and in local, state, regional and an annual national leadership conference. Provide substantial room for decision-making and leadership.
    • Prioritize building networks of support within scientific, public health, corporate, military, and religious leadership building on the existing networks.
    • Hold annual conference, build toward 10,000 attendance in year 2010.
  3. Infrastructure
    • Found or expand training schools to handle recruitment and training, and establish a graduate school to train senior staff.
    • Create top-notch in-house internet organizing, media, and framing teams.
    • Significantly expand direct action teams and other protest oriented staff, operating off the national agenda.[1]
    • Form opposition research team with significant advertising budget and access to direct action teams.
    • Expand or found centers to craft policy initiatives for local, state, and federal governments, corporate policy, and international treaties.
    • Found state environmental voters alliances in all the remaining 50 states. Pursue a strategy to focus on districts with high percent of core supporters and seek to elect champions, plus target the most vocal and effective climate change policy opponents.
    • Set national goals for expanding membership and volunteer rates within core environmental constituencies. Identify key states and regions and seek to build near majority support.
    • Significantly expand corporate campaign capability to maintain 5-8 ongoing campaigns at the RAN/Citibank level.
  4. Program & Politics
    • Withdraw all current climate-policy proposals and craft a national plan sufficient to address the problem, covering U.S. internal policies and U.S. international role.
    • Commission books, papers, short movies, and research reports that give an accurate picture of the threats. Produce maps showing new coastlines.
    • Propose state legislation and launch coordinated initiative campaigns and similar approach with target municipalities.
    • Expand the “key states” concept of some foundations with coordinated membership, political and policy agenda, and a goal of building eco-states — functioning examples of an alternative.
    • Establish working group with insurance industry. Issue joint analyses.
    • Hire ex-military as liaison to Pentagon. Prepare public versions of military preparedness plans for climate change and distribute.
    • Produce policy documents and specific proposals to prepare for sea level rise and increases in catastrophic weather events.
    • Issue state by state and national reports on climate change impact on agriculture.
    • Form joint policy center with New Labor Council, as soon as it is founded. Prepare reports and a book on the benefits of the New Economy that will be put in place through restructuring energy use.[2]
    • Expand support for theologians and religious leaders forming environmental religious network. Pay particular attention to working within evangelical Christian communities of faith and and build a new “muscular Christianity” to engage and dispute with Premillenialist leaders.
    • Launch corporate campaigns aimed at 4 fossil-fuel producers and target one energy consumer sector dominated by one or two companies.
  5. Funding
    • If just 24 foundations from the Environmental Grantmakers Alliance, plus 2 other funders not listed on the EGA membership list, were to commit funding for a coordinated climate campaign on a percentage schedule of current environmental grants — 2% in 2006, 5% in 2007, 10% in 2008, 20% in 2009 and 25% in 2010 — which seems like a pretty cheap price for saving the world, this would raise $554 million over 5 years. Private contributions to cover direct lobbying and electoral campaign costs might be reasonably pegged at 1/2 this amount, or $277 million, for a total of $831 million over a 5-year period.

Well-supported hard work like this would put climate change on the national public agenda and define a true solution. Done correctly, such an effort would mobilize and dramatically expand the core of environmental support with ripple effects throughout the populace. The issue would be polarized, with no wiggle room available to opponents. Climate change and our solutions agenda would figure at or near the top of issues in the next Presidential election. The rest of the environmental advocacy agenda would be immeasurably strengthened and our organizations and institutions made more powerful.

Winning, of course, is an entirely different matter.

I do not believe that social change comes “only through speaking truth to power,” as S&N charge. I do believe that nothing on the scale of the solution we must put in place is going to occur in America unless we are forced by the lash of necessity. An appeal to efficiency and building jobs isn’t going to cut it. A true and unflinching view of the approaching catastrophe must be presented.

Americans have always been Pollyannas and we prefer to believe that we are insulated from the problems of the world. We are also capable of shifting almost overnight into a people of common purpose, optimism, formidable energy, and skill. It is not overstating to say that averting catastrophic climate change is up to America and it is up to American environmentalists to lead the way.

In the end, then, I am again in agreement with Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who wrote, “Our strategy was to create something inspiring. Something that would remind people of the American dream: that we are a can-do people capable of achieving great things when we put our minds to it.”


Ken Ward has 25 years leadership and campaigning experience with the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, Greenpeace USA, Public Interest GRFX, and the National Environmental Law Center. He was a cofounder of the Fund for Public Interest Research, Environmental Endowment for New Jersey, and Green Corps.


[1]This is primarily an internal challenge for Greenpeace. Substantial progress was made under Kristen Engberg and John Passacatando has a smart plan for rebuilding. This work will be made immeasurably easier, however, if it is recognized for the critical function that it is, with other organizations committing to defense of free speech protest.

[2]Look to the New Apollo Project as a model.