Thinking of an elephant to avoid the death of environmentalism

Two documents have created a great deal of ruckus in the liberal political community and in the environmental community: Don’t Think of An Elephant, by George Lakoff, and The Death of Environmentalism, by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger.

Lakoff argues in Don’t Think of an Elephant that liberal/progressives have failed to articulate a compelling overall framework that unites their varied constituencies (including environmentalism as belonging to the left), even though an overall psychological framework exists. He criticizes the varied groups for focusing on technocratic solutions to their various problems, and failing to work together.

Meanwhile, Death of Environmentalism argues the environmental movement has been inadequately successful in recent years, and argues that is because the movement has focused on technocratic solutions to environmental problems. The authors state that instead the movement should focus on developing alliances with a broader “progressive” constituency.

Here at the non-partisan, strongly environmental Committee for Green Foothills, we might look at things a little differently.

First, as Mark Schmitt (no relation) argues in “Death and Resurrection“, many other movements would deeply envy the supposed underperformance of the environmental movement, with its wide base of support in the public, academia, and in funding instutions. Schmitt points out that wide base of support extends across the political spectrum to include “real Republicans”. Ken Ward builds from this point in “Response to ‘Death’: Part II” in questioning Lakoff’s assertion that environmentalism is just a subsidiary part of the partisan left political framework. Ward suggests that environmentalism can be an entirely different framework from that of the left-right partisan split. Given the support for environmentalism among Republicans, including religious conservatives and neo-conservatives, Ward has a point.

This does not mean rejecting everything that Lakoff, Nordhaus, and Shellenberger have said. Building coalitions can be a great way to advance the environmental agenda. We just don’t have to limit ourselves to one side of the political spectrum.


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