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Symphony of Failure
Environmental Activism in Four Movements
October 16, 2013
by Gregory Vickrey
Allegro – Local Failure
In 2010, I wrote an article titled, “Environmentalism is Dead,” decrying the ineptitude and/or downright skullduggery of large environmental nonprofit organizations. At the time, I still held the foolhardy belief that we could keep environmental activism alive at the local level through traditional nonprofit vehicles, particularly because of the “good people” typically involved in such outfits and the hypothesis suggesting small and nimble – and the development of personal relationships – could create more effective tactics within a comprehensive strategy or agenda.
Of course, I was wrong.
I suppose one could argue isolated circumstances prove exceptions to the more idealistic rule, but conversations with activists around the United States and Canada, in particular, have only supplemented my own experiences to the point where the hypothesis above demonstrates abject failure in practice among the grassroots, local and regional fare.
Environmentalism truly is dead.
Please bear this in mind: idiots like me try things like this because we are, in some sense, fatalistic optimists. Our hope and our fear coagulate into things that make momentary sense to our egos and the dichotomies of expectation and the need to eat. Despite knowing the science and openly challenging false environmental saviors – and, in some cases, putting together the science ourselves – we fall into a fundamental, error-prone pattern of belief that this or that or our scrappy little group may be effective. Occasionally we even win. But those occasional successes make the fatalistic optimist a dangerous – if temporarily effective – sort to tradition and classical liberalism and foundation moneys.
Unfortunately, proving the rule applies to more than a privileged white dude is too easy. Traitors to Mother Earth and fashionable sellouts exist in every corner of the world, as Macdonald Stainsby and Drew Oja Day demonstrate in this seminal report about the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada. Within and without organizations and coalitions, those with personal and profitable agendas over-run good people utilizing the methodology and corrosion of conformity in explicit and implicit lock-step with your fiat currency. Some of those good people – abandoned and desperate – even end up dead.
(Read more uncompromising and relevant prose from Stainsby in “Corroding our Democracy.” In case you missed it, I shudder when recalling how many times I sat down at the same table with Steven Kallick.)
Sounds just like your favorite big enviro, does it not? Nearly all of us might as well say we work for The Nature Conservancy.
Andante – Global Failure
Let’s slow it down. Let’s take the wide view. Let’s go back, again, to 2010. Escaping from the morass of the corporatized UN COP system and the debacle that was Denmark, more than 32,000 people descended upon Cochabamba, Bolivia, in order to spark what could have been a purposeful revolution with clarity. Those enacting souls embraced reality and the future by composing a powerful dialogue. The immediate outcome was The People’s Agreement of Cochabamba. Hopeful and relevant, the document portrayed the planet as it was three and a half short years ago, and injected insight and fortitude into the climate justice movement.
In response, the climate justice movement did – and has done – nothing.
I know this because I am part of the problem. Remember? “Idiots like me try things like this because we are, in some sense, fatalistic optimists.” And in every superlative sense, I have tried nothing beyond the vagaries of ego and avarice, joining Climate Justice Now! (CJN!), today a faltering collective of small-time excellence and megalomaniacal and sold-out behemoths purporting to be friends of the earth.
Despite “actions” attempting to display the contrary, large environmental organizations have co-opted Climate Justice Now! to the point where it is indistinguishable from Climate Action Network, the condescending, well-funded, corporatized shill for Green Capitalism and mass affiliate for Rockefeller-produced 350.org and, yes, nearly every politicized branch of Friends of the Earth. And while steadfast, small-time excellence consistently pushes for acceptance of the People’s Agreement, those in control at CJN! maintain a measurable silence on the matter and an inherent lust for a Green Climate Fund – capitalism and progress and growth, oh my! – to save us all.
Again the fool, as an individual I spent most of the last 1000 days or so in a weary state of delusion believing reality and reason would prevail. To no avail. But, damn, we sure do get some vigorous pleas to sign on to innocuous statements, and there’s always a chance one crony or another will invite me to expand my carbon footprint and fly me to COP19 in Warsaw where I can hobnob at the same table with Greenpeace and BASF.
These days, CJN! means jet-setting every fall and demanding everyone has universal access to the false prophecies of “clean energy.” It demonstrates cabalistic communications among the funded elites of the collective behind firewalls and closed doors. It stands for Climate Justice Never.
Scherzo – Quick & Marketable Failure
Back in the cushy United States we embrace the marketable phrase over simple realism, as here our t-shirts say such things as, “I am Herman Wallace,” (I am not Herman Wallace – I have no way of knowing what more than 40 years of solitary confinement or dynamic heroism is like), our Facebook statuses ring, “We are all Trayvon” (no, we are not – most of us have not been stalked by a racist, pathological killer), and we commodify individuals like Chelsea Manning and Bidder 70 into fundraising mechanisms and membership pleas.
We typically avoid rudimentary words and difficult-to-market pursuits like, “ban.” A recent case in point comes from the weak-kneed Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and their dismissal of the general public’s opposition to fracking. Because OEC, itself, maintains a fossil-fueled complexion due to its root relationships with groups like The Nature Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation, this top-down Council proposes the proverbial “win-win” – laughable new standards to improve fracking and make sure localized groundwater contamination rates increase.
Rondo – Finale
All this is to say, of course, we are essentially out of time. My idiocy and our complacency and their skullduggery, all decades in the making, will provide us with an untenable Mother Earth in a few more. Our collective modalities of unabashed narcissism and ironic nihilism will continue to defend the status quo while hoping for a prayer in the first world and death in the third. Even now, I feel unrealized shame visualizing the end of civilization’s symphony; sardonic nepotism conceptualizing an appropriate uprising to avoid the crescendo; and a desire to continue listening, even if the music stops.
[Gregory Vickrey is a consultant in the environmental and political arenas and may be reached at: email@example.com.