A few years ago, Nordhaus and Shellenberger made the case that because the environmental community hadn’t been able to make progress on climate change — which to them defined almost all of environmentalism — the environmental movement was a failure (and should die). I argued then that given the scale of climate change, the uncertainties, and how deep it cuts across all sectors of the economy, it was unrealistic and silly to expect immediate action. I also argued that traditional forms of environmental activism were alive and well and there was no need for a new paradigm.
Well, I think with this past election cycle we should lay the “death of environmentalism” to rest once and for all.
Not only did approximately 20-strong environmental candidates defeat some of the country’s worst environmental nemeses (based largely on their environmental records — Richard Pombo first and foremost among them), but a large part of Arnie’s resurgence in California was due to his sweeping climate change proposal, which is the strongest in the world (yes, stronger than Kyoto).
In addition, with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer replacing James Inhofe on the Senate environment committee, many new climate change bills will be making their way to Congress. We can be sure that this will be a big part of the 2008 campaign, and if a Democrat captures the White House, we can expect significant national legislation. And if a Democrat does win, it will be due in part to the fact that much of the West is turning Democratic, driven largely by environmental concerns.
Of course, environmentalism is never going to rank as high as war or terrorism in the public mind. In 2004 it was a side issue, but so was everything else, for all practical purposes, including health care and education.
In summary, environmentalism doesn’t really need a rebirth because it never died; it just was pushed to the side like everything else in a time of war.