When Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus delivered the talk that has everyone talking, they chose an influential audience: environmental grantmakers. Although the now (in)famous pair focused on mainstream advocacy organizations in their discussion of the death of environmentalism, others have contended that new thinking by the folks who write the checks is key to revitalizing the movement. We’ve invited four representatives from foundations around the U.S. to discuss the issue. Most recent post of the day.

From: Hooper Brooks
To: Stuart Clarke, Enrique Salmón, Rhea Suh
Subject: Not dead, just different
Monday, March 28, 2005, 9:30 a.m. PST

The “Death of Environmentalism” has started a welcome dialogue in the “environmental” community. The authors have put their fingers on an important concern — that the environmental movement seems to be faltering and needing a new platform of values and a new profile. But for me, the piece is out-of-tune and overstated.

More and more, the environmentalism that we support at Surdna is not “dead”; rather, it’s different and more expansive than that of Shellenberger and Nordhaus. Some of it lives in large and diverse coalitions, stakeholder groups, and community-based natural-resource management projects at the state and local levels around the country that are driving significant changes in the way development happens; transportation is planned and funded (e.g., $40 billion for transit approved in state ballot measures in the last election); fisheries and forests are managed; and greenhouse gases are controlled. Some of it is emerging within major institutions and special-interest groups — business, religious communities, hunters and fishers, and so forth. It often doesn’t go by the name environment — rather, community vitality, economic development and competitiveness, equity and fairness.

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Granted, we still do not always gain the ground we would like to, and we can unquestionably do a better job on the big issues like climate change. But we must acknowledge and embrace the multiple voices and interests and local innovations that are emerging around the country. They are a significant part of the base that we need to underpin success on the bigger issues — and their reach is often bipartisan, their label broader than “progressive.” While we surely need a reinvigorated and reframed progressive movement, let’s not conclude that “environmentalism” can live only inside that box.


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From: Rhea Suh
To: Hooper Brooks, Stuart Clarke, Enrique Salmón
Subject: Re: Not dead, just different
Monday, March 28, 2005 10:37 a.m. PST

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I agree with Hooper’s comments: Environmentalism must speak to a broader sector of our communities than just the progressive/liberal set. The portfolio of grants that I manage is located within the West (of the U.S. and Canada), and like Hooper, we do a great deal on the state and local levels. While the Democrats have seen gains in many of these states, it is clear that for broader progress to be made on our issues we must reach out to and connect with broader coalitions. We’ve invested in some remarkable work organizing ranchers, hunters and anglers, Native Americans, and business leaders to speak for things like responsible energy development, accountable land management, even wilderness. As such, I think we are beginning to see the politics of these issues shift. Ranchers supporting wilderness? I think it is pretty exciting stuff. And I think we would have been wholly unsuccessful if, once again, we had walked into their communities with an all-or-nothing political stance.

Many of these constituents are longtime environmentalists who either haven’t had to or haven’t been organized to speak about these values. And many of them characterize themselves as lifelong Republicans. Ultimately, I think we all strive for (re)establishing strong environmental/conservation values to the point where they are seen as the “political third rail.” But until we have a stronger, committed, well-organized base that we truly represent, I think we’d be really remiss in passing on people just because they don’t fall into a “progressive” box.



From: Enrique Salmón
To: Hooper Brooks, Stuart Clarke, Rhea Suh
Subject: Re: Not dead, just different
Monday, March 28, 2005 11:01 a.m. PST

Thanks, Hooper and Rhea, for getting the boat floating with this conversation. My feelings and thoughts surrounding the “Death of Environmentalism” debate reflect what has been stated already. I have always had difficulty referring to myself as an environmentalist. The Christensen Fund approaches environmental grantmaking through a bio-cultural lens. In a nutshell, we suggest with our grants that “what is good for traditionally sustainable land-based communities is good for the land.” As a result, I am always considering the human element when it comes to environmental issues.

As a Native person, I reflect some of the tension that has existed and continues to exist between the “enviros” and “Indians.” The enviros have traditionally been perceived as elitists who enter our communities telling us how we should go about protecting our lands, with little regard for the political, social, and economic complexities involved in land management on Indian and other non-Indian lands. For these reasons, I welcomed the Shellenberger and Nordhaus essay. Often it is good to shake things up a little and remind members of any movement to take a look at their complacency. The frame of environmentalism needs to become increasingly inclusive, and requires a strategy that compels the American populace to see how environmental values match their own.



From: Stuart Clarke
To: Hooper Brooks, Enrique Salmón, Rhea Suh
Subject: Re: Not dead, just different
Monday, March 28, 2005 1:28 p.m. PST

I am interested in the theme that I think I see in Hooper’s and Rhea’s responses — the theme of an environmentalism that transcends ideological divisions. An environmentalism that “can speak to a broader sector of our communities than just the progressive/liberal set” and that can live outside of the “progressive box.”

I confess that I am a little uneasy with an ideologically transcendent environmentalism. First of all, I think that it will become very difficult for the “frame” of environmentalism to become “increasingly inclusive” (a development that Enrique endorses and with which I agree) while also sitting out the broad ideological battles that frame distributive contests in this society. Second, explicitly demarcating an “environmentalism” that can live outside of a progressive box is demarcating an environmentalism that will no longer feel like home to some of our current family. Finally, I am just not so certain that there exists the broad values consensus (at anything other than a discursive or rhetorical level) upon which an ideologically transcendent environmentalism would feed.

I am not suggesting that the kinds of “unlikely alliances” that I hear so much about are unimportant. With respect to the contestation of this or that battle, I certainly agree that we should take our lead from the inclinations of the groups on the ground, as in the examples that each of you presents. What I am suggesting is that we are well positioned, I like to think, to also address ourselves to the relationship that environmentalism has with the broad ideological frameworks whose contestation will always provide the context for this or that political battle. Those ideological battles aren’t going to go away, and I think that we need to find our place within them. To put maybe too fine a point on it, is ideological transcendence a strategy or a tactic?



From: Enrique Salmón
To: Hooper Brooks, Stuart Clarke, Rhea Suh
Subject: Re: Not dead, just different
Monday, March 28, 2005 5:28 p.m. PST

Stuart ended his dispatch with a question: whether or not environmental ideological transcendence should be a strategy or a tactic. I suggest that it should be a priority. I feel this way because when we, as funders, support projects that only reflect strategies and tactics, we are also supporting changes to the status quo for the community that will be affected by the project. A change in the status quo is what often scares people who may or may not identify themselves as environmentalists. In addition, environmental strategies and tactics are often perceived by people as only win-or-lose propositions. There is rarely any middle ground when it comes to a battle over new proposed logging, a dam, or a mine. It is at that middle ground where the environmental movement’s potential allies lie.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus suggest in their essay that the environmental movement should return to the offensive partly by attacking industry when it opposes proposals that would create new jobs. In order to accomplish this, however, ideological transcendence will be a crucial element. It requires allies from all segments of society — including advertising, labor, and health workers, to name only three — as well as from the traditional environmental establishment.

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Hooper Brooks is the program director for the environment at the Surdna Foundation in New York City, a family foundation with assets over $700 million and an 80-year history. The foundation’s environment program makes more than $7 million in grants annually to organizations working on transportation, energy, biological diversity, and urban/suburban land-use issues throughout the U.S.

Stuart Clarke is the executive director of the Town Creek Foundation in Easton, Md. For nearly 25 years, Town Creek has supported public education, citizen action, and advocacy to achieve a healthy environment, an informed society, and a peaceful world.

Enrique Salmón, Ph.D., is a program officer for The Christensen Fund, an independent private foundation that supports bio-cultural projects worldwide. His primary funding region is the greater Southwest of the United States and northwest Mexico. He is a Tarahumara Indian.

Rhea Suh is a program officer with the environment program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where she manages the Western grants portfolio. She currently serves on the Environmental Grantmakers Association board, and has been its chair and vice chair.