Environmental Movement at a Crossroad

One of my favorite blogs World Changing has a really great discussion up about a recent report from the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) called “Weathercocks and signposts: the environmental movement at a crossroads”. The report asks really critical questions of the movement and judging from all the activity on the World Changing blog—a lot of people in the environmental community are digging a little deeper as well.

Over the past couple of years everyone has noticed a viral trend to “go green.” Magazines, advertisements, and TV shows all seem to have advice about how to become more environmentally friendly and activities once associated with a small subset of culture are now mainstream. The environmental community has generally encouraged these “painless and easy steps” with the argument that buying an organic towel is the first step on a virtue ladder. Those first towels will lead to more and more significant lifestyle changes.

However, the WWF report challenges that assumption. First, there is no evidence that this virtue ladder exists and works. Second, they argue that using marketing and eco-consumption as a tool undermines the movement. Environmentalists should be telling people to stop buying things. We should challenge materialism—not promote consumerism. Third, although we’ve had tons of mainstream and commercial success we haven’t had any on the things that matter. Carbon emissions are steadily rising world wide.

Climate change is one of the largest challenges to face human history and is quickly evolving out of the environment box. It’s spreading to become an economic, human rights, national security and public health issue. People are beginning to understand that our actions have serious impacts on our ability to live. How do we balance the need to bring as many people into the movement as possible and make significant changes at the same time? To solve climate change will require a radical pivot in the way we live. It will not be easy. In the next decades we will have to make tough decisions about our culture priorities, so we better start having more conversation like this now.