Environmental leaders and thinkers on what comes next
What do we do now? That’s the question one early riser asked Grist in a letter to the editor right after the election results rolled in. Faced with another four years of the Bush administration — an administration that has been roundly denounced as the most environmentally destructive in the history of the nation — our correspondent asked: Where should environmentalists put their energies for the next four years?
Rather than field that question ourselves, we turned to environmentalists across the country for their thoughts — to writers and thinkers, Congress members and corporate leaders, students and scientists. Over the next several days, we will share their thoughts with you here, as they draw on sources as disparate as the rapper Eminem and the poet W. H. Auden to find hope, inspiration, and a vision for the next four years. (Many thanks to Orion Online for coordinating with Grist to bring you several of these perspectives.)
Share your own thoughts in the Gristmill.
The voters did not give President Bush a mandate on Election Day — the election results tell us that the voters are closely divided. And the voters certainly did not give the president a mandate to continue rolling back more than 30 years of bipartisan progress on the environment. There is no doubt that Americans want clean air and clean water. Americans want to preserve our natural heritage, from sea to shining sea.
The radical Republicans will continue their assault on our environmental laws and regulations. I commend environmentalists for your stiff opposition to that assault for the past four years, and I know you will fight for the environment at every step of the way in the coming four years.
If we have any hope of winning those looming battles, environmentalists must increase efforts to organize Americans at the grassroots level. Mobilize your memberships, as you have been doing. You must also greatly increase your outreach to non-traditional allies, including sportsmen and women, religious communities, and poverty-stricken communities suffering from environmental injustice. Help Americans understand the connections between clean air and water and the health of our children. Our future is at stake.
Nancy Pelosi serves as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, the first woman in American history to lead a major party in Congress. For 17 years, she has represented California’s Eighth District, which includes the city of San Francisco.
The environmental movement should take note of the fact that the presidential election was not a referendum on the environment. A clear majority of the American public is still united in their support for clean air, clean water, and protecting the lands we all cherish. This support cuts across party and geographic lines. In fact, voters in 25 states passed ballot measures funding $11 billion for conservation, and initiatives on renewable energy, mass transit, and nuclear-waste disposal. LCV mobilized over 18,000 volunteers to knock on 1.3 million doors in five battleground states, three of which we won. At the congressional level, LCV won seven of eight congressional races where we invested significant resources, including helping elect two pro-environment Republicans and five Democrats.
Over the next four years, environmentalists should put their energies toward continuing an aggressive fight for the health and safety of our families and to protect the environment. Environmentalists should not rest until all three branches of our government are represented by pro-environment public servants.
Deb Callahan is president of the League of Conservation Voters.
We certainly should not spend our time in lobbying the federal government, which, incidentally, I would have said was a waste of time no matter who was elected. I have more environmental faith in Teresa Heinz’s left foot than the whole administration that was almost her husband’s. Both our main political parties, and all four of their recent candidates, are economic not ecologic in their orientation. That’s been true since 1972, and was particularly true during the Clinton years, when the vice president, author of Earth in the Balance and a promising green, became a huge disappointment.
For the next four years and beyond, I would divide my environmental energy roughly in half. Keep your best half inside your watershed, and apply the other half outside. Do that with your environmental philanthropy as well. The important thing is to be actively engaged. Writing checks is not enough.
Mark Dowie is a fellow at the Tomales Institute and author of Losing Ground. He writes investigative histories on environmental and other topics and works as a cowhand on ranches in California, Wyoming, and Montana.
The dumbfounding results of this election certainly suggest that things in the world are going to get much worse — that as we head deeper into an era of ecological calamity, the inevitable societal stresses will be channeled into rancor and hatred rather than restraint and reciprocity, toward scapegoating and violence rather than toward that collective generosity of heart we’ve all been doing our darnedest to bring about over the course of our lives. And this darkly beautiful earth, upon whom our imagination depends for all its succor and sustenance, will continue to be physically insulted, assaulted, ever more of her wild voices falling silent, choked off in mid-howl.
Perhaps now as North America slips into shadow, each evening, all of us who feel betrayed — and there are many millions of us — can sense our arms clasped around one another’s shoulders in a vast, continent-spanning circle, standing silent under the star-strewn sky, listening in the wordless quiet for what’s waiting to be born. Grieving in these first weeks, sure, watering the soil and the stones with our tears. Yet very gradually coming to feel a dark rhythm underfoot, a faint pulse propagating outward from the heart of the earth, and inviting it up through our soles into our muscled limbs. And so slowly beginning to dance, all of us, drumming the taut skin of the ground with our steady feet.
The salient issue for Americans is how we are going to remain civilized when the permanent global energy crisis is upon us. This epochal event will compel us to downscale, downsize, and rethink virtually all our daily activities. No combination of alternative fuels will rescue us, or permit us to keep running our nation the way we are running it now. Most of all, it will require us to live locally — and intensively so. The great crisis for us will come in the issue of food production. As industrial agriculture fails, along with suburbia and the industrial mega-cities, we will face a tremendously turbulent reshaping of our living arrangements. Some places — Phoenix, Las Vegas — will fail entirely. Anything big, whether a corporation or a government, is liable to become ineffectual. Environmentalists must prepare for these very real hardships.
James Howard Kunstler is the author of two nonfiction books, The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere, and eight novels. He has been a regular contributor to Orion, The New York Times Magazine, and the New York Times op-ed page.
In every forum and at every moment, environmentalists must continue to make the case that greater protection of public health and the environment is critical for all Americans, for our economy, and for future generations. They must continue their vigilance and hold elected officials accountable for any attempts to relax our laws and regulations. They must publicly challenge unsound and unscientific decisions and strive to make the decision-making process transparent. At the same time, they must reach across party lines, cultivate new champions and reinforce old ones, and develop new partnerships with unlikely groups from every walk of American life. If the past is prologue, environmentalists will need every resource at their disposal over the next four years to maintain a semblance of forward progress and to ensure that we truly leave our air, water, and land in better condition than we found it.
Sen. Jim Jeffords (I – Vt.) is the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and enjoys snowshoeing at his home in Shrewsbury, Vt.
I wouldn’t bother waiting for the Democratic Party to get its shit together for the next go-round because I think this week’s election results are just going to drive the party even further to the right.
Put your faith in civil democracy.
In the early days of our country and until the end of the 19th century, we had three powerful social forces: the federal government, local government, and civil democracy. Of the three, civil democracy was by far the most powerful. Activists were responsible for breaking away from Britain in the first place. Look at environmental issues: Creating Yosemite National Park was not Teddy Roosevelt’s idea, it was that of the activist John Muir, who talked Roosevelt into camping under the redwoods. Today, citizen kayakers and fishers work to bring down obsolete dams and let the rivers flow. Falconers have brought the peregrine falcon back from near extinction. Duck hunters have done the most to protect waterfowl in North America.
Worldwide, more than 100,000 nongovernmental organizations are working on ecological and social sustainability. The fact that they have all arisen independently is a tremendous statement of the extent of the environmental crisis. Many of these grassroots organizations are far more capable of solving problems than are self-serving multinational corporations or government agencies. Most of them are local groups working long hours with minimal resources. So I say, now, more than ever, we need to encourage civil democracy by joining up, volunteering, or supporting these groups financially. We can still have a voice in democracy.
Yvon Chouinard is founder and owner of Patagonia, Inc., and founder of 1% for the Planet, a program that donates 1 percent of companies’ profits to grassroots environmental organizations.
With the election behind them, the Bushies and their polluter friends are going to take their love affair to a whole new level that will really screw the American people. We know the administration is going to come after the Arctic Refuge again. We know they’ll keep trying to weaken the Clean Air Act; we know they’ll come after forests and wilderness with a vengeance.
The good news is we are on to them. People must remember that this election was not about the environment. Americans are still overwhelmingly supportive of environmental protections, and they’re still mad as hell that our government has been handed over to corporate lobbyists.
We will not tolerate phony science dictating America’s policies. We will not tolerate a continuation of verbal subterfuge to mask their horrible policies. We are all going to have to band together like never before to fight the full frontal attack. When it came to the worst Bush initiatives of the last term, it was only the stone wall of public opinion that stood in the way. It’s going to have to keep standing in the way.
Environmental advocates must continue to take their case to the states, to Capitol Hill, and if necessary to the courts. But we can’t just play defense. We must keep up the fight for new limits on global warming pollution, and we must insist that it’s time to break our addiction to Middle East oil.
Laurie David is a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council and cofounder of The Detroit Project, which works to fight global warming and America’s addiction to oil.
To see Bush re-elected with the first electoral majority since his father’s first election is an emotional blow. He seems to have secured a mandate based on his policies of preemptive war, war on the environment, crony capitalism, veiled racism, homophobia, and a fundamentalism that would make the Taliban proud.
What to do? Feel your pain. When you listen to President Bush and feel disenfranchised, when you feel like your government doesn’t represent you, when you feel like it is no longer your country, savor that feeling. Before Gandhi, King, Lewis, Parks, Muir, Thoreau went on to do great things, they all felt that way. They felt it, it made them angry, and then it motivated them. Now it’s our turn. Feel pissed off. Then together we will turn it into something.
Our cause is just. We can not afford to be defeated, or to be defeatist. Too much is at stake. Our planet. Our future. And the legacy we leave to our children.
John Passacantando is executive director of Greenpeace USA.
First, the Sierra Club scored a big win for the environment by recruiting over 12,000 new volunteers and turning out hundreds of thousands of new voters who care about the environment. But it is going to be a hard four years. The first instinct of the reelected Bush White House will be to try to complete its shredding of the environmental safety net. We can expect more government secrecy, more suppression of basic scientific data, even efforts to deny citizens the basic right to appear in court to defend themselves and their communities against environmental assaults and dangers.
But our 750,000 members and these new volunteers will not be deterred — we will continue to hold the Bush administration and Congress accountable. Congress will face the judgment of the voters in two years. And two years later, both parties will be vying to take the White House. And the work the Sierra Club began over the past two years, the work of rebuilding environmental community across this country, is the right work. We’re just going to have to do more of it and do a better job of explaining to the American people how the Bush administration’s environmental policies are putting their families at risk.
Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club and author of the book Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.
The electoral system is corrupt and broken, and Bush’s win is a farce. With voting systems owned and controlled by Bush supporters, it is no surprise that Bush is president again. We do not live in a true democracy. If we did, we would have representational democracy, and not just a two-party system. The greatest changes in history worldwide have happened when people took to the streets shutting down systems that support oppression while at the same time building movements of solutions. I pray this election is the wake-up call for Americans to begin to shut down what is not serving us or our world and build together a new vision that takes care of people and the planet.
Best known for her successful two-year tree-sit in an ancient redwood, Julia Butterfly Hill went on to found Circle of Life, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people make a positive difference in the world and modeling solutions to environmental and social problems.
When politicians work to deplete the forests and farmlands — speak. When they threaten the air and waters — speak. When they undermine the well-being of our neighborhoods — speak. When they disregard the rights of humankind — speak. When they disparage the principles of freedom and democracy — speak. When they ignore the responsibilities that accompany inordinate power — speak. When they imperil the possibilities for peace — speak. And above all, when they demand silence — speak. Never more than now, the hope and promise of America rests on a rising, insuppressible chorus of voices — whispering, shouting, proclaiming, protesting, advocating, resisting, singing, supporting, celebrating … and persevering. speak!
Richard Nelson is an anthropologist and author of numerous books, including Hunters of the Northern Ice and The Athabaskans. His work has appeared in Harper’s, Outside, Sports Afield, Orion, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous anthologies.
No surrender; no giving up. Prepare strategically for 2008 in university towns and address the youth vote. Begin priming first-year college students for Election 2006 and 2008. Push for all of the things we would have asked — and expected — of Kerry.
Moving to Canada is not an option. The homeland needs defending.
Rick Bass is the author of 17 books, including The Ninemile Wolves and The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness, and a regular contributor to Orion. His stories have been awarded the Pushcart Prize and the O. Henry Award. He lives in the Yaak Valley of Montana.
Everyone should watch Eminem’s video “Mosh” and put on green sweatshirts as we stand our ground and remain ever vigilant and engaged.
Terry Tempest Williams is the author of many books, including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place and An Unspoken Hunger, and a regular contributor to Orion. She has been a fellow for the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction.
First, let’s get the name of the thing right. The election of 2004 confirms James Madison’s worst nightmare: the takeover of all branches of the federal government not just by a single party, but by an extreme faction of that party.
Second, let’s be clear about where we are headed. We the people are about to get more corruption, more division, more lies, more terrorism, more pollution, more breaks for the wealthy, more religious fanaticism, more corporate subsidies, more kids left behind, more struggling families, more debt piled on the backs of our children, more urban neglect, more nutty ideology, and further procrastination on the issue of potentially catastrophic climate change looming just ahead.
Third, the long-term objectives are clear: restore democracy to the United States by eliminating money from politics, reassert public control of the airwaves, restore a free, locally owned press, repair the frayed separation between church and state, and educate the people once again to be discerning citizens. How can we do such things? The same way all great and noble things are accomplished — with patience, courage, energy, certainty, and a mastery of the art of strategy. The soft underbelly of the Bush-Cheney-Rove empire includes all thoughtful conservatives disturbed by recklessness; all honest persons offended by mendacity; and all true Christians sufficiently alert to notice the discrepancy between the words and life of the “Prince of Peace” and our foreign and domestic policies.
And we have no energy for despair!
We need to resist attacks on air, soil, water, and wild lands. But we also need to change our culture, not just our leaders and technology. We need to speak out and act for more conserving, more sustainable, more peaceful, and more just practices in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and our public assemblies. We must refuse to shut up, refuse to give up, in the face of corporate consumerism and a mass culture peddling the narcotics of entertainment. We need to articulate and demonstrate a more decent and joyous way of life.
Scott Sanders is the author of numerous books, including The Invisible Company, Writing From the Center, and Staying Put, and a regular contributor to Orion. He has been honored with the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Excellence and the Lannan Literary Award.
There is nothing but discouragement in these election results. It will be hard as hell to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with the new Senate, and essentially impossible to get anything significant passed regarding climate change (or probably anything else). More than ever, we’ll be playing defense at the national level and trying to get real things done at the state level, at least in that fringe of states tinted blue on the TV screens. But make no mistake — last night guarantees America won’t re-enter the world conversation on environmental issues for years to come.
Bill McKibben writes regularly for The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Outside, Orion, and many other publications. His books include The End of Nature and Maybe One. He serves on the Grist board of directors.
Conservationists should intensify public outreach and find more effective ways to engage middle America and the business community. For the next four years, conservationists should hold the line in D.C., but direct more energy at getting results where the climate is more hospitable — at state and local levels of government.
Martha Marks is founder and president of REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for Environmental Protection.
Push for complete campaign reform. Remove all corporate money from politics. Depoliticize the environment. Separate the U.S. Forest Service from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and place both in a Department of Interior that is a civil-servant, science-based organization. Make carbon drawdown an international priority. Create a revenue neutral “feebate” system to double America’s automobile fleet mileage. Make conservation and efficiency lucrative for the average person.
Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and best-selling author. He is founder and director of the Natural Capital Institute.
Environmentalists must not lose momentum or slacken our efforts even for a day in this desperate fight to defend our American land and life from four more years of reckless exploitation by the Bush administration and its corporate directors. We must all join forces to attract support — politically, financially, and in the media. Unceasing exposure and inevitable public outrage may inspire strong campaign finance reform and persuade a president no longer seeking re-election to brighten the most disgraceful environmental record in living memory by clearing the stink of fossil fuel, of Enron and Halliburton, from our sadly soiled White House; by putting a stop to irresponsible deregulation and removal of environmental protections in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Tongass National Forest, the Rocky Mountain Front, and elsewhere; by supporting a minimum 40-mile-per-gallon fuel standard; and by urging congressional commitment to clean renewable energies — thereby working to preserve at least a semblance of America the Beautiful for our innocent inheritors.
Peter Matthiessen is a novelist, naturalist, environmental activist, and wilderness traveler. His nonfiction includes The Snow Leopard and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, and his fiction includes Killing Mister Watson and Bone by Bone, and a regular contributor to Orion.
Last night, prior to President Bush being declared the winner, pundits were speculating that drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge area might begin soon. That should give some sense of how difficult it will be to make progress on a strong environmental agenda under another Bush administration.
One way to start preparing for the next four years is for environmentalists and environmental-justice advocates to begin focusing on how we articulate a vision of the future that inspires alliances to: address environmental justice and global climate change, strengthen the Clean Air Act, build support for the precautionary principle, improve water quality, and develop a sustainable energy policy. We must share vision and values if we are to build a winning political coalition that can reform states’ environmental policy, improve environmental health, maintain our advocacy on climate change, and stop the Bush administration’s attempts to roll back environmental regulation.
Peggy Shepard is the cofounder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice, also known as West Harlem Environmental Action, a nonprofit working to build community power to improve environmental health, protection, and policy. In 2003, she received the 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment.
For the next four years, environmentalists should maintain pressure on the Bush administration through all outlets, working to block further weakening of environmental laws through lobbying and lawsuits. However, our main focus should be on the grassroots, local and state level, where we can counteract Bush’s damage by encouraging the growth of the movement and developing statewide initiatives such as California’s landmark greenhouse-gas emissions bill. The environmental community needs to form a stronger, louder, and more active coalition in order to gain more support and influence. We need to mobilize and educate the public to create a stronger constituency that will pressure government for more stringent environmental protection.
A recent winner of the 2004 Brower Award for young environmentalists, Christina Wong is majoring in conservation and resources studies at the University of California-Berkeley. She will graduate in May 2005 and plans to pursue a career in environmental policy and law.
Hope lies in the local thinking and practice that cannot be thwarted by the lying, bullying, exploitation, and greed that pass for “public” policy under the Bush/Cheney leadership. In the grievous outcome of this election, we need to focus activist energy on the small good deed that can impact local environmental health and social justice. Now is not the time to quench the activist fires. Make noise, make poems, make news. As W. H. Auden wrote,
To serve as paradigm
Now of what a plausible Future might be
Is what we’re here for.
Alison Deming is the author of Science and Other Poems, The Edges of the Civilized World, and Writing the Sacred into the Real, and a regular contributor to Orion. She is associate professor in creative writing at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Where do you think environmentalists should put their energies for the next four years? Perorate in the Gristmill.