When Will Greens Move on to the Next Cause?

By Keith Kloor | May 17, 2012 1:05 pm

Some time ago, a mischievous person who works in the environmental/science communication sphere brought something to my attention: Laurie David, the producer of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth documentary, apparently became bored with global warming activism and moved on to a new cause.

Nobody says that green activists should remain tethered to one particular issue. So who knows, maybe it’s better that people don’t turn into one-note drones. (We have enough of them, right?) But I do wonder if there will soon come a point in time when greens and environmental journalists move on to the next big environmental issue of the day. History shows this will of course happen.

In my latest post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, I discuss the last headline-grabbing green cause and the dismay by some environmentalists that it has now gotten elbowed off center stage by global warming. In my post, I suggest that the climate cause may soon suffer the safe fate. Have a read and tell me what you think.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, environmentalism
  • MarkB

    When I was in grad school in the late 1990s, habitat loss and biodiversity was the theme of the day, and as late as 2000 climate change had not even entered the discussion for concerned biology/ecology students. Now? Habitat loss is barely on the radar within the mainstream media, replaced entirely by climate change. As KK suggests, this turn-on-a-dime change is as remarkable for its turn against habitat loss as it is for its turn towards global warming. What’s the difference? The ‘solutions’ for climate change are exactly the preexisting ideological preferences of the wet left – anti-consumerism, anti-corporatism, pro-regulation, pro-internationalism.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Just to state the obvious, this will not only be good for environmentalism as a whole, it will be good for climate change if it gets off the front pages. Less attention will be paid to hysterics on either side and there will be less pressure to get stuff out there in the most extreme format possible.

  • BBD

    This is why the ‘planetary boundaries‘ approach developed by Rockstrom et al. is so constructive. There’s no need to have this discussion if one looks at things in the round. ‘Tis all one.

  • jeffn

    When? They kinda already are out of necessity.
    Check out this website on the Rio Summit: http://www.earthsummit2012.org/
    It lists the top “theme”:
    “The Green Economy in the context of Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development is one of the key themes to be addressed by the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.”
    Set aside for a moment the fact that “poverty eradication” has somehow inserted itself into the discussion and that, amazingly, carbon emissions doesn’t merit mention at all. (Yes, actually, you can be “sustainable” and release a hell of a lot of emissions- thanks for asking)
    All that could be corrected by examining the definition of “green economy” right?
    “There is as yet no agreed definition of what constitutes a green economy.” says the same website.
    Ooops.
    20 years after the first Rio Summit and their top theme is a laser-like focus on a phrase they can’t even define. That’ll get ‘em up and going!

  • LCarey

    If Laurie David is so “bored with global warming activism” then why perchance, of the six projects noted on the home page of her website, do three of them relate to global warming issues????   

  • NewYorkJ

    I saw Tom Brady eating dinner once with his gal.  I concluded that he must be bored with football.  Keith’s logic in a nutshell.

  • Jack Hughes

    Keith, these fads are just fads – its like music or fashion.
    Very few people really care about any of the issues any more than we really care about Justin Bieber or putting mousse in our hair.
    It’s just a narcissistic Po-Mo thing – pretending to be open minded and generous and caring. I mean “caring” about the weather in Bangladesh in 30 years time. Puhh-lease.
    Bono is possibly the prime example of this tosh -he goes blah blah blah about Africa then jumps into his private jet and flies off to his tax exile bolt hole.

  • Brian Dodge

    Your own link says “Every issue I care about crosses the dinner table””from how far food travels to get to your plate, to how much meat we’re eating.” http://www.good.is/post/q-a-laurie-david-on-the-importance-of-sharing-a-meal/ if you go to http://www.lauriedavid.com/, the top link listed on the left side of the page is to stopglobalwarming.orgIf you go to the links associated with The Big Picture, The Family Dinner, and The Future of Food, you find -“Laurie was a producer of the 2006 Academy Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, executive produced the HBO documentary Too Hot NOT to Handle, and the TBS comedy special Earth to America!   She also authored the bestselling book Stop Global Warming: The Solution is You! and co-authored The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, which has been published in over eight languages.” http://atlasfilms.com/thebigpicture/    “Proponents of industrial agriculture falsely claim that this form of production is the only way to feed the world’s growing population. In reality, the industrial food system’s dependence on increasingly scarce natural resources and its vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change and other external shocks make it an unsuitable choice for the future. ” http://www.onthefutureoffood.org/the-issues“Going meatless once a week can reduce your risk of preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help limit your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.” http://thefamilydinnerbook.com/Anybody who thinks Laurie David “apparently became bored with global warming activism and moved on to a new cause.” apparently doesn’t know what he’s talking about.There is no “Next Cause”. There are a number of causes, linked together in various ways. None of them will be helped by global warming.

  • Tom Scharf

    I read recently (and can’t find it now) an article about the “dangers of nitrogen”.  That made me burst out laughing.  

    A fair point can be made that environmentalism is a victim of its own success.  The chances of finding a company dumping 55 gallon drums of toxic waste into the ditch out back are very low now,  we all “get it”.  

    The problem is similar to the US having way too many lawyers.  If they can’t find legitimate useful paying work, they are going to create it from the ether, filing frivolous lawsuits, advertising for “slip and fall” clients, etc.

    If the “green industry” doesn’t have legitimate issues to go after (and there certainly are some), then the last thing they are going to do is to close up shop and stop taking donations.  Way too many people make their livings from this, and they are going to be screaming about something.  

    You get the feeling that not only has climate fatigue hit the public, but also the green industry as well.  There is a yearning for a shiny new cause to fill one’s time.  

  • DeNihilist

    Everything that is now, will someday be not. Whether it is the spotted owl, chased to extinction by natures latest creation, mankind, or destroyed from the heaven’s above by a rogue asteriod, all things have a beginning and an end.  It is only the madness of these peoples’ ego, that they think that they can alter the preset path perpetraited piously by nature.  For some reason the human species needs drama to convince themselves that they are special and beyond nature. We are not, we cannot, we will never be beyond nature. The worm that eats the soil is as special as we. No past, no present, just herenow. As a wise old Jew once stated, “we should dance and celebrate while the groom is here, for one never knows when the groom will leave” If through our living, we “destroy” the enviroment as it is now, we will only be helping to bring on the next phase of this continuing evolution, whether that be a blackened and scorched earth, that no advanced life form ever rises from again, or a paradise of one species, or the total destruction of humans’ and the reign of the lower forms of life, then it is as it has always been meant to be. Live life to the fullest and leave a pretty corpse is the only thing that nature asks of humanity. Nature does not need to be, nay, cannot be, saved by mankind. That is an ego trip. Drop the ego all and celebrate that you have been chosen to exist in this timespace, and worry not of the future, as the future worries not for you. I am off first light tomorrow, to drive 350 kilometers to meet my wife, who drove up tonight, yes, in seperate vehicles, for a long weekend of horseback riding, tree chopping, firewood making and hopefully lust filled love making. I will not succumb to the life denying denizens that think just eking out an existence for the sake of saving God’s other creatures is the duty of mankind. If life is duty and not an aware celebration of our fortune, then life be damned.

  • BBD

    Tom Scharf @ 8:

    I read recently (and can’t find it now) an article about the “dangers of nitrogen”.  That made me burst out laughing.

    Fun facts about nitrogen:

    Only humans and Rhizobium bacteria are capable of directly fixing atmospheric nitrogen

    – Human activities now convert more atmospheric dinitrogen (N2) into reactive forms than all of the Earth´s terrestrial processes combined

    – Nitrogen added to the environment artificially as crop fertilizers cycles but doesn’t convert back to inert atmospheric N2 – it is more likely to end up as N2O – a very efficient GHG (see panel 3 – and remember, we’ve only been synthesising fertilisers on a significant scale since the mid-C20th)

    – Agricultural runoff causes eutrophication of waterways, lakes and coastal oceans (anoxic ‘dead zones’)

    – Nitrogen is essential for feeding humanity – without it agricultural yields would collapse and global starvation would result (no, we can’t feed 7 billion or anything like that number organically)

    – Nitrogen will be essential for feeding 9 billion

    – Anthropogenic nitrogen fertilization of forests and ocean plankton enhances draw-down of atmospheric CO2

    Yup, it’s pure comedy gold :-)

  • Jack Hughes

    Is Nitrogen the new Carbon ?

  • Tom Scharf

    BBD @11

    So what is it?  We have too much or too little?  Or is simply much worse than we thought?  

    I assume we must be really really close to a nitrogen tipping point unless we start implementing progressive policies ASAP.  And to think of all we owe to the third world, you know, nitrogen justice.

    I assume you know we won’t be running out of Nitrogen any time soon, and the air has quite a bit of it actually.  I guess we could get congress to label Nitrogen a protected element.  

    The comedy is of course the exact same sort of barely plausible scare stories were repeated as has been done with CO2.  Good look getting traction on that one.

    What’s next?  The sun has too much hydrogen?  or possibly a huge di-hydrogen oxide scare?

  • BBD

    Tom Scharf

    I’m sorry you find # 11 a sketch of a ‘barely plausible scare story’ rather than an insight into what is actually happening.

    Mind you, I have to admit that I used to dismiss all that sort of stuff as nonsense. I can’t sit on a high horse.

  • Gaythia

    I think that this must be a “controversy” that exists within the minds of journalists.  Or perhaps in their pocketbooks.  Realistically, newspapers, magazines, blogs and even books can’t just keep saying the same thing over and over again.  Marketing really is linked to trendyness.  But people buy into a wide spectrum of things, not just the one that is “hot”.While obviously biodiversity is not a problems solved, and remains threatened, scientific work is ongoing.  There is greater recognition that the Endangered Species Act approach is not a solution overall, and greater attention needs to be paid to ecosystem approaches.  Certainly the sustainability movement has incorporated this world view.  A lot rests, as it does for climate change, in having a society that is not dominated by large corporatist interests and short term profits.  As Brian Dodge says above: “There are a number of causes, linked together in various ways. None of them will be helped by global warming.”It is perfectly reasonable to attack the issues that face us by focusing on different pieces of the puzzle, as one deems appropriate for one’s own skills interests and needs at the time.  At any rate, I don’t believe that the future of environmental movements hinge on the career changes of any particular individual.

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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