The cultural profile of environmentalism has drifted free of reality
John and Jamais make a great point. Media reaction to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment focused, almost without exception, on gloom and doom — the grim catalogue of what is currently wrong and the most apocalyptic scenario of where things could go from here. But the MEA contained much more than that, including several scenarios in which things change and improve in various ways. Read their posts for specifics on those scenarios.
I meant to address this way back when I was bitching at Nicholas Kristof, who complained about the "alarmism and extremism" of the green movement.
The cultural profile of environmentalism seems to have taken on a life of its own. "Environmentalism" means shouting about how the world’s going to hell and condemning everyone who doesn’t agree to live like a monk. When an environmental issue is covered in the media, that’s how it gets covered — if it doesn’t fit that template, it’s either forced in or ignored. When the public sees that kind of story, its eyes glaze. It all becomes — for the green groups, those who consider them enemies, the groups’ individual members, and the public at large — incredibly predictable, and like anything predictable, it becomes background noise.
For a look at a particularly undiluted, flat-footed presentation of that stereotype …
… check out the interview Lisa wrote about here. The environmentalists that this guy is talking about, that Kristof wrote about: I don’t know any of those people. They sound like a strange alien species to me. It doesn’t ring true to my experience.
I see more and more cases — and the MEA is a great example — where the environmental stereotype seems to have drifted free of its moorings in reality. I hear more and more people talking about creative solutions, doing creative work in business and private contexts, expressing hope, gathering momentum. But the cultural profile does not change with the facts on the ground. It seems immune to the changing concerns and activities of those working to put us on sustainable footing. It’s almost surreal for me now to read about this "movement," this stereotype — it’s a ghost that’s been emptied of any corporeal contents but lives on, haunting our dialogue as though it were more significant than the reality.
I’m not sure if there’s any way to break the spell. For my part, I think we, the people doing the work, should just start talking about something else. I’m going to do my best to stop using the words "environmentalist" and "environmentalism." Whatever those things are, they are not as interesting as the words and work of the armies out there on the ground, trying every day to get it right.