Resource: "The Death of Environmentalism"
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Title: "The Death of Environmentalism"
Resource type: Article
Topics: Individual Choices, Statewide/Global
Keywords: environmentalism, environmentalist
Audience: All
Region: Minnesota Statewide, Outside Minnesota
Summary: This essay finds fault with traditional environmentalism, arguing that the mainstream environmental movement is ill equipped to face the massive global challenges of our day, in particular climate change.
Content: To elaborate on what Alan AtKisson wrote in his 1999 book "Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World": Activism to protect Nature from the ravages of the economy and from the typical American lifestyle (traditional environmentalism: the stick) is different than redesigning industry and lifestyles to fit benignly into the natural world (sustainable development: the carrot). Working toward sustainability necessarily engages disparate groups -- industry leaders, labor unions, Wall Street, citizen groups, government, academia and others -- as well as environmentalists. It offers people a bold, inspiring, very long-term vision grounded in ecologic realities but not always leading with an environmental message such as "walk more to cut CO2 emissions" (as opposed to "walk more and get fit, meet your neighbors, save money, ...").

It is surprising then that a provocative October 2004 essay finding fault with traditional environmentalism never asserts that sustainability is what must rise from the ashes of environmentalism. In this long piece reprinted at the Grist Magazine web site noted below, the authors Shellenberger & Nordhaus argue that the mainstream environmental movement is ill equipped to face the massive global challenges of our day, in particular climate change. They argue that we can no longer afford to address problems separately (no surprise here for those with a passing understanding of sustainability): for example, climate change, fuel economy standards, and the US auto industry's high health care and pension costs and underinvestment in research and development cannot be dealt with separately as if they were unrelated.

"The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World" - a call to framing issues under the umbrella of sustainability without using the term - is meant to shake up all who are working on issues such as water quality or climate change and have fewer accomplishments to show than they would want.

See also "Environmentalism's Existential Moment: Shellenberger & Nordhaus Respond to Critics" at, which proposes investing in technology vs. regulating technology as the most effective response to climate change.

Suggested by: Philipp Muessig
Added: 03/1/05
Updated: 08/30/12