Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So Whatever Happened to the Environmental Moderates and Pragmatists?

As I noted in my throwback post, the Ensia article about how Environmental activism needs “good cops” and “bad cops” really brought back a lot of memories. But one thing it also caused me to do is to look back at how things have progressed since I wrote that article. The first thing to recognize is that the article was written in November 1994 (due to publishing schedules it ran in the Winter, 1995 edition). This is significant because 1994 was when the fall-out was happening from the Clayoquot protests. For those of you not familiar with the back story, the Clayoquot movement was really the first mass blockade/arrests in BC's" war in the woods". This was a time when environmental activism really came of age in our province. Direct action prior to that time had been mostly limited to Greenpeace vessels blocking whaling ships and on land to a relatively very small number of activists like “Earth First!” mostly coming out of Oregon and California. In Western Canada we had seen very few examples of “direct action” prior to Clayoquot and as we all know, we have seen many since.

Civil disobedience was a major component of the protest at Clayoquot and as result a lot of people were arrested for blocking roads and access to the forests. The major difference between the civil disobedience of 1993 and that of 2015 was in the consequences of the protestors’ actions. What a lot of the current generation of protestors seem not to recognize is that there is no “right” to commit civil disobedience. I listen with decreasing interest to protestors who argue about their “rights” since most appear to have no clue what a “right” actually means under the law/constitution. Most activists these days appear to believe that they should be allowed to block roads and break the law with impunity. One feature of the protests in 1993 that has apparently been forgotten by our current generation of activists, was that back then the protestors did not simply get to walk away after being picked up by the police. These protestors were arrested, charged, and had to face the consequencces of their actions in a court of law. As described in the Wikipedia article on the subject (ref) “of the 932 people arrested, 860 were prosecuted in eight trials with all those prosecuted for criminal intent found guilty”. As recounted, many of protestors ended up spending time in jail. Can you imagine a modern environmentalist discovering that their actions would get them sent to jail? 

By 1994, the time of my writing, there were two significantly differing views on how to progress within the environmentalist community, 1) the “activist” route of civil disobedience and direct action and 2) what I called the “pragmatic” approach. At the time, I was strongly influenced by the writings of Alan Borovoy whose book “Uncivil Obedience” I had taken to heart. For those of you not familiar with either, Alan Borovoy was something of a hero of mine. He was a champion of civil liberties and spent a considerable amount of time as the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. In his book he talked of how activists can work within the system to foment change. He talked of forming alliances, making life challenging for the people on the other side but emphasized the importance of remaining within the letter of the law. My “Rules of Engagement” were drawn from the ideas expressed in his book. The pragmatic approach involved making allies, fighting within the system and making structural changes. 

As I describe in my previous post Modern Environmentalism: Trying to replicate the Clayoquot, we all know who won out on that schism in the 1990s. The activists built on their successes and used those successes to purge the moderates from their ranks. Since that time moderate environmentalists have been efficiently and effectively shown the door and the movement is run by the purveyors of the big, loud protests. As a consequence, in the modern environmental movement a moderate or pragmatic environmentalist is about as common as a spotted owl. We are told they exist and one or two are photographed every year, but they are now more noted by their absence than their presence. 

This brings me back to the Ensia article quoted above. You see the premise of the Ensia article is that we need both “good cops” and “bad cops” to move ourselves forward. 1994-me would absolutely concur with that sentiment but 2015-me has a question for the author of the Ensia piece (a shorter version of which I have asked online and will append if it arrives): 

In this hypothetical scenario of the “good cop” and “bad cop” we all know the bad cops are but I cannot for the life of me find any “good cops”. Can you name any “good cops” that can serve in the role you argue they need to occupy?

As I note, I have not yet received his answer to this question; but I have my own answer. Having small children I have watched the “Lego Movie” more times than I would care to admit and in my mind it presents the best analogy to what we see in the environmental movement today. As in the movie, the good cop have been erased from the picture leaving only bad cops and worse cops. There are no honest brokers or pragmatic environmentalists to serve as “moderators” as they (we?) have all been swept from the stage. Moreover, the potential allies I spoke of in 1994 are no longer out there in the numbers they once were. As I wrote in my earlier post about civil servant salaries, most of the technical specialists in the civil service are underpaid with respect to their private sector peers. What this means is that many of the folks working in the senior levels of the Ministry of Environment, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) etc.. are typically there because they have an actual sense of public service and actually want to make a difference. These true public servants are obvious allies of the environmentalists, but instead of being treated as such, they are often treated like enemies. Activists, even now, are occupying a DFO office while the employees of the Environmental Assessment Office are being called “stooges” and “tools of the oil industry”. Not exactly the best way to win their hearts and minds?

So where do we go from here? Well, there is a lost generation of potential allies out there wandering in the metaphorical wilderness. These people, like myself, want to be a part of the solution but are tired of being treated, at best, like unwanted pets and, at worst, as the enemy. As I have mentioned previously, we live in a democracy and in order to advance your cause in a democracy you need at least a plurality of the population on your side. Modern environmentalists have become very good at making enemies and alienating potential allies and very bad at building consensus and creating coalitions. Until they can do the latter they will remain on the outside looking in; all the time complaining bitterly when the people they abuse and mistreat don’t go out of their way to make their lives easier. Until they are willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt they aren’t going to be able to convince the working stiffs, stuck in traffic because of their illegal protests, to support them with their causes.

1 comment:

  1. I don't see enviromentalists face to face, but that's beccause I live in a very laid back small city. I do read their articles and comments, and they appear to be quite devoted to their "cause". However, must of them come across as being fairly ignorant of what can be accomplished, or have a simplistic view of things, think everybody in this world can live in a small house with a house topped with solar panels and a connection to a magic grid. They think their clothes will be made with algae and their sewage will be used to grow lettuce in a communal hydroponic facility built into a 30 story tall concrete tower in the center of town. And of course everybody will work at home using a super high speed fiber optic connection

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