Every September I receive a fax from a Louisiana university. An instructor asks me for the right to publish an article that I wrote about environmentalism some 20 years ago.
Its title is "Too many groups, too little maturity." I tried to make the point that the environmental movement needed reorganization and redefinition.
On Capitol Hill, I had watched the large organizations for 10 years and had observed the waning power of righteousness as a motivational tool in the legislative setting. I premised my argument off an essay by Theodore Roszak titled "Green Guilt and Ecological Overload."
Two decades later, everything else in the world - from newspapers to banking to health care to education - is being turned upside down. It should be no surprise that environmentalism is in transition. The arguments underlying the basic premise of environmentalism are being questioned by environmentalists themselves.
Some environmentalists are forcing a redefinition of how environmentalism is promoted.The cover title on last week's issue of The Economist magazine is "Rescuing Environmentalism (and the planet)." The magazine's lead editorial quotes from an essay that's getting a lot of play these days: "The Death of Environmentalism" by Michel Shellenberger and Ted Norhaus. Those writers have worked with environmental groups.
The gist of this watershed essay as well as analysis by The Economist is that environmentalism must (for the sake of the planet) take a new direction.
Not surprisingly, The Economist applies dollars and cents to the task and notes that one banker is finding profit in promoting environmental progress. Using reforestation in Panama as an example, the magazine spotlights "John Forgach, an entrepreneur, banker and chairman of ForestRe, a forestry insurance company based in London. Mr. Forgach's plan is to use the financial markets to arrange for companies dependent on the (Panama) canal to pay for the reforestation."
A fiscal approach to reforestation, air emissions or global warming itself is quite a distance from Henry David Thoreau or John Muir. But it makes an essential argument that must be at the heart of any environmental polemic: There will be a price to the environmental deterioration of the planet.
Reporting on trends in environmental evaluation, the magazine concludes: "In effect, this means that the environment has been brought on to the balance sheet. Furthermore, because insurance companies recognize that the environment can be a huge portion of the risk in a project, there may be a financial incentive for paying to protect it."
And what about the tired appeal to righteousness? "...(M)any conservationists dislike valuation," writes The Economist. "Some misunderstand it as an approach that ignores cultural and spiritual values. It does not. It simply converts these values into monetary units that can highlight the cost of a course of action.
"The valuation of ecosystem services is not without its difficulties. Nevertheless, the fact that there is a growing consensus about how and where it is appropriate is an important step forward for economists and environmentalists."
It will be more than a shame if the environmental movement does not move to another stage of maturity. Too much is at stake. I am a firm believer that it won't be the bomb that gets us. We will perish at our own hands. We are already doing a good job of it.