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The Death of Environmentalism: An introduction to the symposium



The American environmental movement has been struggling for more than a year to digest the strong critique offered by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in their widely disseminated treatise "The Death of Environmentalism." Their essay accuses organized environmentalism of framing key issues in overly narrow terms, of failing to connect with everyday public concerns, and of inadequately responding to the challenges of conservative political interests. This article briefly summarizes the essay's key arguments, retraces some relevant history pertaining to the past decade of environmental policy making, and highlights some of the areas in which this work touches on topical issues within the environmental social sciences. The article ends with a brief overview of the other contributions that make up this symposium.
Symposium on “The Death of Environmentalism”
Introduction to the Symposium
New Jersey Institute of Technology
The American environmental movement has been struggling for more than a year to digest
the strong critique offered by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in their widely dis
seminated treatise “The Death of Environmentalism. Their essay accuses organized envi
ronmentalism of framing key issues in overly narrow terms, of failing to connect with every
day public concerns, and of inadequately responding to the challenges of conservative
political interests. This article briefly summarizes the essay’s key arguments, retraces some
relevant history pertaining to the past decade of environmental policy making, and high
lights some of the areas in which this work touches on topical issues within the environmen
tal social sciences. The article ends with a brief overview of the other contributions that
make up this symposium.
Keywords: American environmentalism; environmental movement; transition manage-
ment; democratic expertise; public ecology; death of environmentalism
ewspaper obituaries occasionally report on a death that occurred several
months, or even years, earlier. These belated announcements may raise
fleeting suspicions about the timeliness of coverage, but there is ordinarily a plausi
ble explanation for the lapse. The news may have taken time to filter back from a
distant locale or a communication mishap among surviving family members may
have impeded the prompt conveyance of public information. Whatever the specific
reason, the point is that we are normally not surprised when formal declarations of
death lag a distance behind the actual event.
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus’s (hereafter S&N; 2004) widely dis
seminated essay “The Death of Environmentalism” could easily be interpreted as
an instance of this phenomenon. Composed as a time bomb and released at the
2004 annual meeting of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the authors’
essential thesis is that environmentalism, as institutionally created, is little more
than a special interest and its flagship organizations misguidedly pursue an overly
narrow policy agenda. At the same time, conservative politicians, commentators,
and think tanks have successfully managed to paint the environmental movement
Organization & Environment, Vol. 19 No. 1, March 2006 74-81
DOI: 10.1177/1086026605285586
© 2006 Sage Publications
Author’s Note: The author wishes to acknowledge David Pellow’s participation on the original panel that gave rise to this symposium.
Special thanks to Phil Brown for his guidance organizing the earlier event in Philadelphia, to Robert Brulle for handling the logistical
arrangements, and to the governing council of the Environment and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association for
institutional support.
as perilously out of touch with common concerns and as a danger to the well-being
of ordinary people. To back up their claims, S&N cite some provocative social sur
vey data to underscore the extent to which environmental values have lost ground
in the United States.
To reverse these trends, the essay argues that major environmental organiza
tions must become the vanguard of a new progressive wave of political action by
forging novel partnerships with perennial adversaries and dissolving certain sacro
sanct commitments. Central to their strategy is the New Apollo Project, a 2-year-
old initiative to launch a broad coalition to champion a national renewable energy
development program.
Response to the S&N essay, perhaps not surprising, has been polarized. Some
readers have celebrated the authors as prescient lion slayers whereas detractors
have pilloried them as impertinent dupes. The first question, invariably, is why the
clamor? Although the treatise has circulated extensively via the Internet over the
past year and received attention in the popular press, the faltering condition of
the American environmental movement can hardly be construed as newsworthy.
Most attentive observers have recognized that organized environmentalism was
ailing for some time. Numerous proponents have whispered among themselves for
a decade or more that demise was imminent. There were even frequent unsubstan-
tiated rumors that death had already come. If so, why the emotive outpouring of
grief—and denial—once the long-anticipated decree was nailed to the door?
Good forensic practice requires pathologists to first familiarize themselves with
the deceased. Sociologist Robert Brulle (2000) has conducted one of the most
exhaustive studies of the contemporary environmental movement and we can use-
fully draw on his characterization for guidance. After reviewing legally mandated
financial disclosure records, Brulle contends that institutional environmentalism in
the United States encompassed during the 1990s upward of 10,000 separate
groups. However, the vast majority of these entities exist in little more than name
and they command few resources. He identifies 87 organizations as making up the
active core of the contemporary environmental movement.
In terms of any reasonable measure of size and scope, The Nature Conservancy
(TNC), a behemoth land trust with vast holdings, towers over the rest of its peers.
Because of its distorting effect, it is first necessary to exclude TNC from any subse
quent analysis. Even absent TNC, the American environmental movement is over
whelmingly preoccupied with two interrelated sets of issues: wildlife protection
and landscape preservation. More than 90% of all so-called environmental organi
zations in the country are principally oriented around this pair of concerns (Cohen,
2006a). And herein lies the basis for the delayed pronouncement made by S&N.
The authors are, with good reason, primarily concerned with the ill effects of
industrial pollution and speak earnestly about the signal importance of the Clean
Air Act and other related pieces of landmark legislation. The regrettable truth,
however, is that human health has always been an understated concern of the coun
try’s environmental movement. Regardless of how one assesses institutional
activity—organization numbers, personnel, membership, income—it is difficult to
dispute the claim that the well-being of people has consistently been an under
emphasized facet of American environmental activism. A brief thought experi
ment helps to demonstrate the point. Try to envision major groups expending the
same energy and resources to reduce childhood asthma as they have spent on cam
paigns over the years to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Given this particular set of priorities, it should not be surprising that environ
mentalism has fallen out of favor with the public. It is actually possible to trace the
movement’s slide into death back to the early 1990s. The leading environmental
organizations define their own effectiveness, at least in part, in terms of ability to
pass federal legislation. Using this metric, the last major victory came with passage
of the 1990 round of Clean Air Act amendments. This bill had been percolating for
more than a decade and it was no small accomplishment to finally get it signed into
law. Immediately afterward, however, the signs of pending death started to become
apparent to anyone who cared to look around Washington. The evidence was espe
cially palpable during the lead up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which brought cli
mate change and sustainable development to the fore. The American environmen
tal movement, because of its historic disinclination to talk about distributional
questions, proved completely unprepared for globalization and, to this day, has yet
to seriously grapple with its implications. Nonetheless, the signs of ill health went
into remission, at least for a time, after the election of President Clinton and the
resultant appointment of many of the leaders of the nation’s largest environmental
organizations to formal positions of power.
In one of their first forays into environmental politics, the Clintonites got burned
on a proposal to implement what was, in effect, a national carbon tax and so re-
treated rapidly from this arena. Vice President Al Gore, the environmental move-
ment’s chief political patron, was subsequently frozen out of the highest White
House councils and initiatives under his direction, such as the Partnership for a
New Generation of Vehicles, lost momentum. In the final days of Clinton’s first
term, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt reportedly marched into the Oval Office to
deliver a scorecard that creatively indexed the administration’s unremarkable envi-
ronmental record against that of Theodore Roosevelt (Jehl, 2001). This shrewd tac-
tic grabbed the president’s attention and motivated him to spearhead a large assort-
ment of preservation measures championed by the land-and-wildlife-protection
mainstream of the environmental movement. Although this infusion gave the im-
pression that environmentalist ideals had political traction, other key elements of
the agenda—most notably controlling industrial emissions—remained moribund.
During this time frame, the most prominent air quality strategy centered on a series
of lawsuits against large coal-burning electric utilities. Then, in another 11th-hour
reversal, this time at the end of his second term, Clinton was again propelled into
action by a fateful desire to leave a noble environmental legacy. During his last 2
weeks in office, he embarked on a frenzied push to codify by executive order a large
jumble of initiatives that had languished for nearly a decade.
The most conspicuous failure of this period—and the most glaring symptom of
the environmental movement’s atrophying political influence—was its inability to
make any progress on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Although the United
States was not alone in this regard, the voluntary provisions of the Framework Con
vention on Climate Change signed in Rio in 1992 proved to be utterly ineffective
and initial endorsement of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was an unprecedented Pyr
rhic victory. The Senate repudiated the treaty and the White House evinced no
inclination to expend its dwindling supply of political capital to make the case for
ratification. For all of the high drama in which leading environmental organiza
tions had been enmeshed for more than a decade—from the momentous battle to
secure passage of new clean air legislation to campaigns to counter the Global Cli
mate Coalition—it is ironic that the nadir of their descent was brought on by indi
vidual acts of quiet contemplation. Unable to close ranks in support of Al Gore dur
ing the 2000 presidential campaign, a few thousand anonymous Floridians walked
into their respective polling stations, defiantly cast their ballots for Ralph Nader,
and ultimately dashed the vice president’s prospects for victory. When the history
of post-1970s environmentalism is written, it will likely be this event that will mark
the end of the era.
It ultimately took 4 years to prepare an obituary for the American environmental
movement and, through a peculiar turn of events, S&N have emerged as its unlikely
authors. I personally commend them for acknowledging the limits of the insipid
reform strategies that have been at the center of organized environmentalism in the
United States for the past few decades. Although a long and distinguished prehis
tory set the trajectory on which the environmental movement alighted during the
early 1970s, that particular way has come to an end. There is now quite a bit of for
aging going on to find a new path forward and it may take time to decide on how
best to proceed. My own ruminations are drawn from an emergent nexus develop
ing at the interface of science and technology studies, innovation management, and
environmental policy.
Surely, the most pressing requirement is to cast off strategies predicated exclu
sively on legalistic and technicized tactics that have, at best, the potential to achieve
unexceptional improvement at the margin. S&N are quite correct in insisting that
environmentalists must begin, as an unavoidable first step, to construct new, uplift-
ing visions of alternative futures. It is concomitantly essential to recognize that the
challenges of the next century are immense: a doubling of global population, a
massive increase in greenhouse gas production, an energy crisis of epochal propor-
tions, and a seemingly relentless march of all-encompassing consumerism. Such
problems cannot be adequately addressed by an uncoordinated array of small-bore
efforts to, say, reduce toxic releases by 20% or to double the recycled content in
toilet paper.
A newly invigorated environmental movement must chart a path that begins to
fundamentally change how contemporary societies use scarce materials while
simultaneously recognizing that we are in the midst of a process of global transfor
mation that likely cannot (or arguably should not) be reversed. To foster meaning
ful engagement, it is necessary to realign our conceptual categories so that they
more closely depict the complex sociotechnical systems that characterize prevalent
configurations of production and consumption. The existing notion that environ
mental problems are scientific conundrums that can ultimately be resolved through
the application of technicized expert knowledge ignores the incontrovertible real
ity that these issues are situated at the intersection of inseparable social and
technoscientific systems. Moreover, efforts to innovate toward more sustainable
systems of provision—what some scholars have begun to refer to as transition
management—will require a high degree of coordination among markets, gov
ernments, and civil society organizations and be cast as an ambitious task that will
extend over a time frame of a generation or more (Elzen, Geels, & Green, 2004;
Martens & Rotmans, 2002; Raskin et al., 2002).
Such an approach echoes some of the same themes that Luke (2005) outlines in
developing the notion of “public ecology.
This recommendation counters S&N’s
emphasis on “public-private partnerships” and Luke is skeptical of their claim that
political reinvigoration rests on emulating the tactics of conservative adversaries.
He is justifiably critical of unbridled markets and unchecked statist intervention
and advocates an arrangement in which civil society organizations articulate a pub
lic understanding of ecology to cultivate novel forms of resistance knowledge that
can “harness together a new mixed ecological regime. Although scholarship on
transition management has not to date focused a great deal of attention on gover
nance per se (however, see Kemp, Parto, & Gibson, 2005), the pluralist system that
Luke advocates would seem to be a prerequisite for policy programs predicated on
such principles.
Whether any of these largely European-based discussions hold any relevance
for the United States is, of course, a very tricky question. The obstacles are
multifold. Industrial corporations operate in accordance with a heavily truncated,
and ultimately destructive, understanding of public responsibility. Many of the
country’s governance institutions lack democratic legitimacy and, as we have seen,
progressive civil society is fragmented and weak. Under these inauspicious cir
cumstances, it is difficult to muster much optimism. It may ultimately be that
movement toward transition management and public ecology is incompatible with
current capabilities and the most effective strides will be made elsewhere (Rifkin,
Taken in the round, part of the problem resides in concerted attempts over the
past few decades to stifle discussion about “the future” and, as a consequence,
Americans lack the cognitive skills and institutional capacity for thinking in such
terms (Brand, 1999). The reasons for this situation are easy to identify. Collective
consideration of where we are going and how we might get there conflicts with the
tenets underpinning neoliberalism: free-market enterprise, short-term gain, and
speculative opportunism. Careful consideration of the future requires respect for
public planning and critics, with remarkable success, have derided such pursuits as
pointless and worse. Within academic circles in recent years, serious study of the
future has had about the same standing as numerology.
Under this onslaught, we have lost much of our resolve for engaging with the
future. We tend to turn away from the temporal horizon rather than try to judi-
ciously peer over it. The last rigorous national initiative to take a measured and far-
sighted look was the Global 2000 Report undertaken during the Carter administra
tion, but this exercise was cast to the wind even before the ink was dry.
A walk through the Internet reveals that S&N have been subjected to plenty of
scorn for their purported audacity and impudence. Such an outcome was inevita
ble. By embarking on a mission to stridently challenge the perquisites of
entrenched environmentalism, they, perhaps purposefully, put themselves on a col
lision course with their colleagues. Nonetheless, it is probably true that institu
tional reinvention will not force all the organizations that carry on the workaday
tasks of ensuring some semblance of environmental integrity to close up shop.
Prominent groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense
Council will persevere, perhaps at substantially scaled-down size, providing im
portant public services. The process of normalization that has been ongoing for
some time will continue. These groups, for better or worse, will become more like
the National Parks and Conservation Association and gear themselves to work on
standard issue problems rather than represent the leading edge of a movement for
social and political change.
At this point, it may be useful to step back momentarily for some historical per
spective. The Boone and Crocket Club that inspired conservationism more than a
century ago probably strikes most contemporary readers as a quaint relic. Regard
less, the 19th-century aristocrats who made up its membership were emblematic of
a certain brand of reform politics and their activities were socially relevant in much
the same way that the National Wildlife Federation is representative of the more
recent era. To chart a new generation of environmentalism founded on robust inno
vation and political modernization, it will likely be necessary to create an entirely
different array of institutional resources.
The above interpretation is hardly the only way to tackle claims alleging the
death of environmentalism and I do not mean to implicate others in the approach I
have taken here. It is in this spirit of open dialogue that contributors to the current
symposium have assembled themselves. In an effort to elucidate some of the impli
cations of the S&N essay, a panel discussion was organized last summer in con
junction with the annual conference of the American Sociological Association. An
invited group of social scientists gathered in Philadelphia to consider the status of
the environmental movement in the United States in light of recent contentions
alleging its death. The panelists subsequently revised their original presentations to
take into consideration the views aired during the highly animated discussion that
followed. The remaining portion of the symposium makes up three other papers.
The second contribution in this collection, by Robert Brulle and Craig Jenkins,
begins with a review of the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff that heavily
informs “The Death of Environmentalism. This research contends that political
advantage is achieved by using a salient masterframe to structure constituent issues
into a coherent discourse. The success of conservative political interests, according
to Lakoff, is due to their effective deployment of this rhetorical strategy whereas
liberal politicians and organizations have relied on an incoherent grab-bag ap-
proach. Brulle and Jenkins interpret the New Apollo Project as an initiative that
seeks to restructure the rhetorical politics of environmentalism without substan-
tively altering the political economy of contemporary life. The authors also argue
that S&N fail to appreciate the diversity that characterizes the contemporary envi-
ronmental movement and underestimate the costs of adopting policies to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. The final point of their critique charges that “The Death
of Environmentalism” perversely advocates the same kind of arrogant elitism that
its instigators seek to overturn.
The symposium’s third piece by Riley Dunlap interrogates the public opinion
data on which “The Death of Environmentalism” is premised. Drawing on the re
sults of the Gallop Organization’s annual Earth Day survey, he contends that there
is reason to be skeptical of S&N’s allegations of a pattern of eroding civic support
for environmental protection. Dunlap demonstrates that it is problematic to view
environmental sensibilities in isolation of other political currents. Public opinion
polling has found that environmental commitments in the United States are consis
tently overwhelmed by other considerations and that expressions of support are
highly contingent on the specific format of survey questions. He argues moreover
that for a range of contemporary policy issues, it is necessary to interpret the results
of opinion polling within the context of large shifts in the post-9/11 political land
scape and the way in which the White House and Congress have pursued the “war
on terrorism. Dunlap proceeds to describe the complex web of organizational
linkages that makes up the intellectual foundation for S&N’s research on social
values and raises questions about the veracity of these methods. He concludes by
speculating that the weakening the Bush administration has experienced in recent
months due to scandal, flooding, and strategic errors in Iraq could precipitate
renewal of public environmental attentiveness.
The final offering by Lynnette Zelezny and Megan Bailey focuses on the failure
of “The Death of Environmentalism” to consider the gendered dimensions of en
vironmentalism. By devoting attention exclusively to the large national organi
zations that embody the mainstream of the movement and advocating for public-
private partnerships as the basis of a reinvigorated environmental politics, they
maintain that S&N ignore an accomplished and distinguished tradition of female-
led activism. Zelezny and Bailey furthermore draw on an extensive body of empiri
cal research in environmental psychology to assert that women have an enhanced
sense of ecological responsibility and that political renewal should actively and
aggressively seek to harness the unique features of this ethic of care before turning
to untested alternatives.
The authors who have lent their voices to this symposium offer different views
and engage with tenets of the original essay in a variety of ways. This diversity of
perspectives is largely a result of the tremendous ambitiousness and importance of
the task that S&N have launched. Although all the contributors are in their own
ways critical of “The Death of Environmentalism, there is a palpable recognition
that sweeping change in how the environmental movement pursues its goals is both
necessary and inevitable. The specific paths to be pursued will likely emerge out of
a lengthy and spirited debate.
1. Grist, an electronic environmental newsmagazine, has been the primary venue for
commentary about “The Death of Environmentalism” ( The Octo-
ber 2005 issue of American Prospect is also devoted in large part to discussion about the
Shellenberger and Nordhaus essay (
2. This notion of public ecology shares some similarities with what has been, in related
contexts, referred to as “democratic expertise” (Cohen, 2006b; Hoppe, 2005; Woodhouse &
Nieusma, 2001).
3. The Millennium Institute issued a revised version of the Global 2000 Report in 1993
that is available at
Brand, S. (1999). The clock of the long now: Time and responsibility. New York: Basic
Brulle, R. (2000). Agency, democracy, and nature: The U.S. environmental movement from a
critical theory perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Cohen, M. (2006a). Ecological modernization and its discontents: The American environ
mental movement’s resistance to an innovation-driven future. Futures, 38(5).
Cohen, M. (2006b). Sustainable consumption research as democratic expertise. Journal of
Consumer Policy, 29(1).
Elzen, B., Geels, F., & Green, K. (2004). System innovation and the transition to
sustainability: Theory, evidence, and policy. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.
Hoppe, R. (2005). Rethinking the science-policy nexus: From knowledge utilization and
science technology studies to types of boundary arrangements. Poiesis & Praxis, 3,
Jehl, D. (2001, January 18). How an interior secretary helped to encourage a presidential
“legacy.The New York Times, p. A31.
Kemp, R., Parto, S., & Gibson, R. (2005). Governance for sustainable development: Moving
from theory to practice. International Journal of Sustainable Development, 8, 12-30.
Luke, T. (2005). The death of environmentalism or the advent of public ecology? Organiza
tion & Environment, 18, 489-494.
Martens, P., & Rotmans, J. (2002). Transitions in a globalizing world. Exton, PA: Swets and
Raskin, P., Banuri, T., Gallopín, G., Gutman, P., Hammond, A., Kates, R., & Swart, R.
(2002). Great transition: The promise and lure of the times ahead. Boston: Stockholm
Environment Institute.
Shellenberger, M., & Nordhaus, T. (2004). The death of environmentalism. Retrieved from
Woodhouse, E., & Nieusma, D. (2001). Democratic expertise: Integrating knowledge,
power, and participation. In M. Hisschemöller, R. Hoppe, W. Dunn, & J. Ravetz (Eds.),
Knowledge, power, and participation in environmental policy analysis (pp. 73-96).
New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Maurie J. Cohen is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science
and the Graduate Program in Environmental Policy Studies at the New Jersey Institute of Technology
(NJIT) in Newark, New Jersey. He also holds affiliations with the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers
University and the Urban Systems Program jointly administered by NJIT, Rutgers, and the University of
Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. His most recent book (with Joseph Murphy) is Sustainable Con
sumption: Environmental Policy and the Social Sciences (Elsevier, 2001). His other books include Risk
in the Modern Age: Social Theory, Science, and Environmental Decision-Making (Palgrave, 1998) and
The Exxon Valdez Disaster: Readings on a Modern Social Problem (Kendall-Hunt, 1997). He is cur
rently the editor of the e-journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy (
... In failing to adequately address the need for structural change, the reapers effectively advocate ''the same kind of arrogant elitism'' they ostensibly wish to overturn (Cohen, 2006, p. 79) and ignore the importance of political mobilization and struggle in challenging entrenched power relations. Brulle and Jenkins (2006, p. 85) observe that Shellenberger and Nordhaus do not adequately address how ''change in worldviews will be organized or who will get to define core progressive values'' but evidently ''assume it will be professional experts such as themselves'' using the insights of cognitive linguistics. ...
... Agonistic democrats look for broad progressive coalitions based on commonalities in ideological perspectives. This may include forging loose ''unlikely alliances'' or ''novel partnerships'' with those that would normally be regarded as adversaries (Cohen, 2006, p. 75) on some issues (e.g. tempered radicals 49 and militant activists; Republicans with strong conservationist beliefs) and ''employing a continuum of strategies to help effect social change, ranging from subtle quiet tactics to organizing collective action'' (Ball, 2007, p. 762). ...
... Another contrast to Black studies is ESS relatively tenuous link to student demand. While the movement grew rapidly during the 1970s, by the 1990s it entered a period of reorganization, if not retrenchment (Cohen 2006;Johnson and Frickel 2011). College ESS majors, meanwhile, grew most rapidly after 1990. ...
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... Brown (2013) provided an agonistic appreciation, critique, and extension to Richard Laughlin's work that draws on Habermas's theory of communicative actions. Brown and Dillard (2013) addressed the ''death of environmentalism debate" (Cohen, 2006;Dunlap, 2006;Nordhaus & Shellenberger, 2007; M. Shellenberger T. Nordhaus The death of environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World 2004 to offer an agonistic critique on the monologic environmentalism movement and to explain how agonistic pluralism can help engagement strategies. Brown (2015) paper further developed ''dialogic accounting for stakeholders" by turning towards the insights science and technology studies provide regarding opening up and closing down participatory governance. ...
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... Consider for example an observation made by Marie Cohen after nearly two decades of attempts by Environmental Justice activists in the USA to get US mainstream environmental movements to pay greater attention to urban environments and environmental justice issues-i.e. to consider the environments that the majority of Americans actually inhabit. Cohen (2006) notes that 90% of all so-called environmental organizations in the US are still overwhelmingly preoccupied by two major issues: wildlife protection and landscape conservation. As such, critiques may well have been issued time and again from the periphery-but it's not clear that anyone has been listening at the centre. ...
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In this special issue of Science as Culture, we mull over the current state of our common environments and the politics of nature more generally. ‘The Death of Environmentalism’ has recently emerged as a provocative thesis circulating around the Internet and beyond. Whilst this thesis may well be generating more hot air than cool analysis, a growing range of voices are suggesting that environmentalism is in trouble and that there is a real need to open up the environmental debate in new ways. In this issue, we seek to engage with these debates but also to explore possible openings. We suggest that the notion of ‘Technonatures’ may provide a fruitful metaphor/myth for motivating discussion and reflection about changing relations between our ecologies, bodies, technologies and urban worlds. We hope readers will engage with the contributors to this issue, as debates progress about the possible contours of a new spatial/temporal politics of environmentalism for the new century.
... Shellenberger and Nordhaus (2007), for example, provocatively announced the death of environmentalism after observing signs of decline (and institutionalism) in the American environmental movement (Cf. Dunlap 2006, Cohen 2006. Green protest activities have lost their novelty. ...
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Today, technology delivers information related to our environment, but not the skills of how to form knowledge and wisdom when too much data is available due to technology. Therefore, many environmental problems persist for decades as researchers explore one narrow aspect of the problem, and do not recognize problem interconnectivities. This fosters environmental illiteracy in the environmental decision process. In contrast, the holistic knowledge-forming process of Indigenous People teach their youth to form holistic knowledge of nature and to realize that their decisions may impact 7 generations of their tribe. This prepares each tribal member to be part of the community-level decision process. Therefore, the concept of STEM science learning should be expanded to include Indigenous STEAM (iSTEAM) to help build environmental literacy. Environmental problems of our day are treated as a monolith: separated from inherent political, economic, and societal dimensions. We know this because many approaches have been used to solve environmental problems and yet those problems have continued to persist for decades [1,2]. Traditional top-down processes isolate external, decontextualized knowledge to inform internal policy and management practices, which ultimately impact local communities and not the decision-makers. These decisions are based on pre identified solutions which allows decision errors to be propagated throughout the decision process since they are based on framework theories and not local theories that are predictive and refutable [3]. These errors are used to justify biased decisions that benefit only a few and not the local community, even when the decision has the potential to result in an environmental or societal catastrophe. This fundamentally weakens ensuing legal and political frameworks because they do not present the context of interconnected issues and relevant stakeholders impacted by the decisions made for each problem. Frequently the top-down approaches represent the views and values of decision-makers and special interest groups with an economic stake in the solutions. They do not give a voice to indigenous or local people who live close to the land and are the most impacted by these decisions,
In recent years, sustainability discourse has largely eclipsed e nvironmental discourse. We trace the evolution of this shift, discuss its problematic implications and analyze it in Lacanian and other theoretical terms. We discuss the respective tendencies of environmental and sustainability discourse and argue that the latter, among many other flaws, is more prone to a social fantasy of reconciling ecological, economic, and social problems, and as a consequence, disavows the threat of ecological catastrophe. Since environmental discourse also sometimes slips into social fantasy, one predicated on balance and harmony, we make the case for a revival of an environmental discourse more grounded in concrete ecological problems — an ecological realism inspired by psychoanalytic theory.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution of land and water, land-use changes, lack of equality and other problems at local, national and global levels represent a challenge for economics as a social science. Mainstream neoclassical economics may be able to contribute to a more sustainable society but it has also played a dominant role in a period where problems have been aggravated. A pluralist and democratic view of economics is therefore very much warranted. This book presents a multidimensional and ideologically more open view of economics: understanding economics in multidimensional terms is in accordance with the 17 sustainable development goals recognized by nations at the UN-level in 2015. Accordingly, approaches to decision making and accounting at the national- and business levels have to be reconsidered. Neoclassical Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) with focus on the monetary dimension and an assumed consensus about a specific market ideology to be applied is not compatible with democratic societies where citizen and actors in other roles normally differ with respect to ideological orientation. Environmental Impact Statements and Multi-Criteria methods are used to some extent to broaden approaches to decision-making. In this book, Positional Analysis is advocated as a multidimensional and ideologically open approach. Positional Analysis is based on a political economic conceptual framework (as part of ecological economics) that differs from neoclassical ideas of individuals, firms and markets. And since approaches to decision-making and to accounting are closely connected, a new theoretical perspective in economics similarly raises issues of how national and business accounting can be opened up to meet present demands among various actors in society. This perspective raises also numerous ethical questions at the science and policy interface that need to be properly addressed for sustainability decision making. © 2017 Judy Brown, Peter Söderbaum and Malgorzata Dereniowska. All rights reserved.
To characterize my life before entering academia, I usually quip: I was a community organizer on environmental justice campaigns for Greenpeace for three years. I burned out so, I decided to go to graduate school. Most academic audiences chuckle at the idea of graduate school as a more relaxing existence. However, I would not trade my experience as a community organizer for the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign in the 1990s. Those experiences have defined both my teaching philosophy and research agenda.
An emerging body of research proposes that climate change concern is shaped by one's social ties and cultural milieu. This work aligns with findings in the well-established field of social network analysis, whereby individuals are understood as being embedded in social networks, and network position can be used to predict attitudes. Here we examine whether having ties to environmental movement organization members is correlated with climate change attitudes amongst the general public. We use data from a nationwide survey of the Canadian public to demonstrate that having social ties to environmental organization members increases the likelihood that an individual member of the public has a plan to deal with climate change. These findings reinforce the value of focusing on social context when examining climate change attitudes, and highlight the role that environmental organization members play in mobilizing climate change responses.
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Successful environmental policies often emerge in the presence of favorable technical conditions that help to structure problems and, indeed, help to solve or substantially ameliorate them. In the chlorofluorocarbon case, such favorable conditions included the availability of scientific techniques allowing laboratory experiments on chlorine-catalyzed ozone destruction and (later) detection of the ozone hole, the timely invention of the Aplanalp valve as a replacement for CFC sprays, and especially the technical "sweetness" of the organic chemistry and engineering which allowed Dupont and other chemical manufacturers relatively quickly and inexpensively to shift to non-CFC coolants as replacements for Freon. There still were many questions about the severity and mechanics of the ozone-depletion problem, coupled with ample political-economic opposition to government restrictions in most nations. But technical expertise in its own right did much to help resolve the usual struggles involving knowledge, power, and participation, leading eventually to the Montreal ozone protocol. This was a prototypical example of a "technological fix." The technology was sufficiently developed, appropriate expertise was available, and requirements for governmental financing were negligible. Unfortunately, such favorable conditions are hardly the norm in complex technological decision making. Environmental problems frequently are ill-structured, wicked, or otherwise difficult even to define in ways that bring into alignment the congeries of affected interests, partisan perceptions, and diverse expertises negotiating to co-construct the definition of the situation (Hisschemoller and Hoppe 1996). In difficult situations of this type, if "politics" does not completely eclipse technical expertise, what role can expertise play in constructive policy making? How should experts and users of expertise orient their efforts so as to structure problems and evolve sensible policies? Of the many variables that help to explain why some environmental cases turn out fairly well and others do not, we will argue that an especially important one is democratic expertise. Such expertise is not fully developed, diffused, and employed in contemporary political systems; it is as much aspiration as achievement. But environmental problem solving appears to benefit substantially even from levels of democratic expertise that are moderate compared with what we hope will someday become possible. Democratic expertise, it turns out, is something of a
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The relationship between political judgment and science-based expertise is a troubled one. In the media three cliché images compete. The business-as-usual political story is that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, politics is safely -on top' and experts are still 'on tap'. The story told by scientists is that power-less but inventive scholars only 'speak truth to power'. But there is plenty of room for a more cynical interpretation. It sees scientific advisers as following their own interests, unless better paid by other interests, and politicians as asking for advice only to support and legitimize their pre-formed political decisions. To the extent this cynical perspective gains ascendancy, politics and science lose credibility. If we think the three clichés cloak a more complex reality, we should embark upon a quest for other, possibly better models of the science/politics nexus. That is exactly the purpose of this article. Its claim is that a mutual transgression of the knowledge utilization strand of research in policy studies and the study of science, technology and society will provide us with more sophisticated images of science/politics boundary arrangements. Building upon Habermas' well-known distinctions and Wittrock's historical-institutional approach in the construction of a property space, eight models are presented. We should try to discover the conditions under which some of these models may claim greater verisimilitude. This may allow us to rethink the role of scientific expertise in policymaking and generate a model that guides experts and policymakers (and perhaps other stakeholders as well) in their day-to-day boundary work.
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Academic proponents of sustainable consumption have marshaled considerable evidence over the past decade to support calls for more efficacious lifeways among residents of the world’s developed countries. Policymakers continue, however, to resist these recommendations because sustainable consumption runs counter to dominant tenets of neo-liberal economics and conventional political objectives. Unless investigators in the field can identify a cadre of clients that is interested in forming tacit partnerships, the concept of sustainable consumption is likely to remain little more than a prospective pursuit. This article suggests that there are some nascent indications that these kinds of alliances are developing. For sustainable consumption to take root in the policy sphere, it will be necessary to more actively foster these relationships and to cast this form of knowledge as a form of democratic counter-expertise that challenges elite economic and political institutions that regularly appropriate and deploy consumer science to advance their own interests.
This book considers two main questions: how do system innovations or transitions come about and how can they be influenced by different actors, in particular by governments. The authors identify the theories which can be used to conceptualise the dynamics of system innovations and discuss the weaknesses in these theories. They also look at the lessons which can be learned from historical examples of transitions, and highlight the instruments and policy tools which can be used to stimulate future system innovations towards sustainability. The expert contributors address these questions using insights from a variety of different disciplines including innovation studies, evolutionary economics, the sociology of technology, environmental analysis and governance studies. The book concludes with an extensive summary of the results and practical suggestions for future research.
In this response to a widely circulated essay by environmental activists Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, the author provides a critique of some of their key points, including their assertion that “third wave environmentalism” must emphasize investments in public-private partnerships. Contrary to the positions advocated by Shellenberger and Nordhaus, an argument is made that the environment is a public space and collective good and that it is best understood through the lens of a truly public ecology. This approach offers the best chance to reconstruct environmentalism as a vital space for addressing global warming and other major problems. It provides a framework for gathering together new progressive movements aimed at achieving equity from the economy and ecology of the Earth. Further discussion is invited.
The increasing complexity of our global society means that sustainable development cannot be addressed from a single perspective or scientific discipline. By using the concept of transitions, we examine current and future tensions between welfare, well-being and the environment, and focus on four major issues that are of global importance: two of our key natural resources, water and biodiversity; the health of human populations; and the developments related to global tourism. In our global assessment, we base ourselves on the most recent scenario efforts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Future developments are explored along the lines of four development paths (scenario groups), defined along two dimensions (global versus regional dynamics and emphasising economic objectives versus environmental and equity objectives.