My original post is below. I just came across this information from Washington Post, showing that in this election cycle one environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters, is actually one of the bigger donors to Democratic candidates.
LCV has donated nearly a million dollars in 2010, and is ranked #2 in terms of total donations over the last week.
Read the full article here.
A few weeks ago, I was at an event at Paul Smiths College where Bill McKibben gave the keynote address.
Bill began his career as an environmental writer and activist in the Adirondacks. He spoke passionately about the looming climate change crisis.
He pointed out that the United States has a near-perfect record of doing nothing to stop global warming, despite a near-perfect consensus among scientists that the threat of catastrophic impacts is growing.
With his talk coming just a couple of months before the 2010 mid-term elections, I expected Bill to pivot and make a point-blank appeal that would go something like this:
Elect more environment-friendly Democrats this fall, or the Republican Party will take control of Congress. That means any realistic hope of pushing through carbon-reducing policy will evaporate.
Bill talked at length about organizing international rallies and events, but the idea of taking direct action to influence the outcome of this year’s vote here at home never came up.
That moment lingered in the back of my mind until I came across an essay this weekend by conservative George F. Will, who comments on “the environmental movement in retreat.”
I’m not a huge fan of Will’s. In this column, he does what he often does in his public appearances, which is to suggest that there is a growing level of doubt about the scientific evidence for climate change.
It’s fine to refuse to accept global warming for whatever ideological reason you choose.
And it’s also perfectly fair to say that you would rather boost the economy or create jobs (or whatever) rather than spend society’s resources on cutting carbon emissions.
But to suggest that there is any substantive doubt among scientists about the physics and chemistry behind human-caused climate change is either goofy or outright deceptive.
Still, Will’s larger point is spot-on:
The national green movement is in full retreat, disorganized and increasingly marginalized, despite the fact that “their” party is in power and “their” message is at the center of the debate over energy and conservation.
It’s not that Americans don’t care about the environment. We do. But greenies suffer from two big problems.
First, most eco-problems these days are big and abstract.
Before environmentalism took root in the U.S., our rivers were so polluted they were bursting into flame. Our most iconic birds and animals were going extinct.
Human children were being born with deformities and illnesses because of industrial pollution. Green spaces were vanishing.
A half-century later, many of those easy and obvious problems have been solved.
These days, scientists will tell you that the remaining problems are just as big, but the causes are much harder to see and explain.
What’s more, tackling global-scale issues like climate change will mean all of us doing stuff we really don’t want to do.
Like paying extra at the gas pump. Or using mass transit. Or living in smaller houses. Eating locally grown food when it’s in season.
Still, those hurdles would probably be surmountable — at least incrementally — if not for environmentalists’ other big problem.
They stink at politics.
By way of contrast, consider the tea party movement on the right. Tea partiers march and protest and occasionally say idiotic things about the president’s birth certificate.
But they also connect the dots between their conservative worldview and the importance of winning elections. They rally aggressively behind candidates who reflect their values.
Environmentalists not so much.
I just looked at a list of the top 130 donors to political campaigns between 1989 and this year, compiled by OpenSecrets.org.
Archer Daniels Midland is there. So is Wal-Mart. And General Motors. And Koch Industries.
All those companies have a vested interest in seeing climate change and environmental legislation stopped in its tracks, and they’re willing to dig deep to win the fight.
(To accomplish their goals, they’ve even helped to fund the tea party movement itself.)
But there is not a single environmental group, PAC or eco-campaign on Open Secret’s list. Not one.
After greens fell short in the debate over carbon controls this year,
It’s worth pointing out that other progressive and left-of-center groups figured out a long time ago how to play a major role in American politics.
Indeed, half of the top-20 contributors to political campaigns since 1989 have been labor unions.
Organized labor groups also field huge get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of their candidates, a grassroots tradition which translates into vast power.
Put simply, they understand that in a democracy, you have to win elections to win policy debates.
If you want your values reflected, you have to make sure your candidates get across the finish line.
Green groups have never learned that lesson. Instead of holding political rallies, and fundraisers, they hold non-partisan “Earth Days.”
Bill’s group, 350.org, plans to stage a similar world-wide chain of “work parties” on October 1oth, less than a month before the election.
It looks to be a great and global event.
But once again, there is no obvious link between the work parties and the opportunity to vote, which directly shapes the political culture in Washington.
Here’s 350.0rg’s argument for how this event will push the debate, taken from their website:
What is the strategy for using work parties for larger systemic change?
Work parties build community, create real change on the ground, and inspire communities to get involved in shaping their own sustainable future. Thousands of simultaneous work parties all over the world attract a lot of media, and send a message to politicians that we care enough to “get to work” and that we will leverage the strength of our numbers both locally and globally to make sure they’re getting to work too.
Speaking on David Letterman’s show recently, Bill summed it up this way:
“If I can go to work and do something, then I damn well expect my political leaders to do something.”
Consider me a skeptic.
Not when it comes to climate change, but when it comes to this kind of consciousness raising as a method for influencing politicians and shaping public policy.
The bottom line is that even with the science and millions of Americans on their side, environmentalists aren’t likely to see a carbon bill cross President Barack Obama’s desk any time soon.
Not until they learn how to win big fights in Washington.
Bill spoke to this concern during an interview with Politico back in August, when support for a climate change bill collapsed.
The environmental movement needs a radical overhaul if Congress is ever going to pass a climate bill, McKibben said. That means lawmakers need to be aware of the political consequences if they don’t side with the greens.
“We weren’t able to credibly promise political reward or punishment,” McKibben said. “The fact is, scientists have been saying for the past few years the world might come to an end. But clearly that’s insufficient motivation. Clearly, we must communicate that their careers might come to an end. That’s going to take a few years.”