There has been much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among environmentalists since the election, and even more so since the debut of that godforsaken paper.

Much of it assumes that "the movement" — to the extent there is such a discrete thing — is responsible for its own ill fortunes. I don’t want to say that’s entirely untrue, but I think greens, like perhaps everyone, tend to exaggerate the degree to which they control their own fate. There are large historical forces afoot, and to some extent environmentalism is simply carried along.

Consider that, to use that most hackneyed of analytical crutches, 9/11 changed everything. Well it didn’t change everything, but it prompted a pretty significant realignment of the concerns and allegiances of a pretty significant portion of the voting public. In particular, the public mood turned very aggressive about foreign policy, and aligned with the party that displayed the most bellicosity on that subject: Republican.

It so happens that, at least presently, those running the Republican Party are fairly hostile to environmental regulation and indifferent toward environmental concerns (yes, of course there are exceptions, but let’s not pretend, okay?).

So, there’s been no particular shift away from environmental concern in the electorate. It’s just that kicking some ass (anybody’s ass will do) took precedence. So much the worse for the environment, but I’m not sure the green movement can be fairly blamed for it.

Support for this view can be found in the massive recent Pew poll. Consider this:

… Pew’s political typology study … sorts voters into homogeneous groups based on values, political beliefs, and party affiliation. …

… clearly, [the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq] -­ and the overall importance of national security issues -­ have a major impact on the typology. Foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters; this was a relatively minor factor in past typologies. In contrast, attitudes relating to religion and social issues are not nearly as important in determining party affiliation.

It’s not, in other words, the environment that sends a person to one party or the other. The fact that a majority of the electorate moved to a party that’s hostile to the environment is a contingent fact, based on external events over which green groups had and have little control.

On its face, the importance of foreign policy seems to argue on behalf of the current alignment between green groups and national security groups (as a pragmatic matter, anyway; I happen to think the substantive arguments in this area are frequently confused, misunderstood, and exaggerated). After all, if national security is the electoral order of the day, we should hitch to that wagon, no?

Perhaps. But that’s certainly not the only coalition greens should be trying to build. There are reasons to think that the current dominance of foreign policy belligerence will fade (absent a new attack). And consider:

The typology study’s finding of significant cleavages within parties not only runs counter to the widespread impression of a nation increasingly divided into two unified camps, but also raises questions about political alignments in the future. In particular, the study suggests that if the political agenda turns away from issues of defense and security, prospects for party unity could weaken significantly. As the following chapters detail, numerous opportunities exist for building coalitions across party lines on many issues currently facing the nation ­ coalitions that, in many cases, include some strange political bedfellows.

Also, consider this:

Environmental protection now stands out as a major divide within the GOP’s coalition. While a narrow majority of Enterprisers [i.e., wealthy white males] believe the country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment, most others on the GOP side disagree.

So the situation on the right is this: a motley coalition, led by a fairly narrow sliver (mainly corporate interests hostile to environmental regulation), held together mainly by a shared commitment to the use of force in foreign policy. As/if foreign policy and national security issues become less salient — or if environmental concerns become more salient, as I would expect– some members of that coalition can be cherry-picked as fellow warriors in the green fight.

Think I’m exaggerating about the narrow sliver of corporate interests?

Enterprisers stand alone on key economic issues. Majorities in every other group — except Enterprisers — support a government guarantee of universal health insurance. Enterprisers also are the only group in which less than a majority supports increasing the minimum wage.

Do you see universal health coverage or a raised minimum wage on the table? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, there’s much, much more to chew over in this poll. There’s not much in it directly related to the environment, but lord knows greens need to be more politically savvy, and understanding the basic lay of the political land is part of that.