The Environmental Movement is failing. Through analysis of environmental news, issues, campaigns, organizations, coalitions and events, this blog critically examines the Environmental Movement and, in particular, the Environmental Establishment which dominates the Movement. In this way I seek to create a conversation and ultimately a shared vision of the change we need in the Movement - and in the Establishment - to reverse the decline of the Earth and its habitats.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why the Big Greens can't "Save the Earth"...and what (maybe) can.

I recently came across an interesting article in Counterpunch which builds off furor over a Naomi Klein interview to present a critique of the Environmental Establishment:

Stockholm Syndrome in a Three Piece Suit

The Problem With the Big Green’s Naomi Klein Gripe


The article is worth consideration by those who seek environmental and social justice and, therefore, who recognize - if only intuitively - the connection between the two.

Over the years I have become increasingly concerned about what is called "The Environmental Movement" but which is increasingly an Environmental Establishment rather than a movement. Part and parcel of the concern is dissatisfaction with the extent to which environmental organizations - from the Big Greens right down to local "grassroots" groups - are indirectly controlled by foundations which emerged from or are still connected to natural resource exploiting corporations.

I am also concerned with the impact of self-selecting boards of directors, i.e. with the baggage that comes with the corporate structure which environmental organizations adopt in order to be able to accept foundation and other tax-exempt contributions. Over time many (most?) of these boards become dominated by those who have heavy stakes in systems which appears to be incapable of operating with respect for and in harmony with life on this planet.
As these concerns have grown, I've ended membership in all national green groups save the Sierra Club. I now work through the Sierra Club as a grassroots leader precisely because the Club has a democratic structure. And while the Club may be as oriented as the others toward corporate benefactors (too great a percentage of the budget comes from corporations and their foundations rather than from members), there still exists the capability for the membership to rise up and demand change in positions, policies and leadership. 
Furthermore, the potential for rank and file members to change the direction of the Sierra Club is not theoretical; it actually happens in both small and large ways. For example, grassroots Club activists recently pressured leaders to embrace distributed power generation and to moderate support for the Obama Administration's emphasis on massive centralized power generation far from points of consumption. The most significant application of democracy within the Sierra Club in recent times came at the hands of the  "Zero Cut" Campaign launched by activists calling themselves the John Muir Sierrans. Through the democratic process, the John Muir Sierrans were able to fundamentally change Club policy on national forest logging against the wishes of Sierra Club staff and most leaders.
It now seems to me that democracy - or more precisely democratic process - is inimical to corporate rule and the only real hope that we can marginalize the corporate-dominated Environmental Establishment and relaunch a genuine Environmental Movement. If such a relaunch is to happen, however, it will most likely not come from the so-called "environmental grassroots" as Doug Bevington believes. On the one hand "grassroots" NGOs have become too meek and too corporate, while today's "grassroots environmental movements" are too narrowly focused on issues and not focused enough on core critiques and sustained organizing for power.   

My hope lies more with contemporary Indigenous Movements which have led to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN and which are now advancing the Rights of Mother Earth, including enshrining those rights in the national constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador.  It is in supporting and joining with these Indigenous Movements that grassroots, rank-and-file environmentalists can most likely reclaim what was once a vibrant movement but has become an establishment for which (like all establishments) the first directive is to keep the funds flowing, i.e. to sustain the organization and the six digit salaries to which leaders have become accustomed. 

I recently attended a forum in Arcata California on the Rights of Mother Nature hosted by the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Development. Along with presentations from Indigenous leaders from Ecuador and the US, the forum included a panel of local (white) environmental leaders. But while good symbolism and abundant good will were in evidence, it was also evident that we have a long, long way to go before we will achieve a unified vision much less collective action. 

Still dialogue is a beginning and it was good to see that sort of dialogue happening at the local level and not just at international conferences held in far off places.  Which causes me to wonder what is going on in that regard in your neck of the woods. Is there dialogue among environmental and indigenous organizations; does that dialogue go beyond expedient alliances on particular issues with tribal governments; have ongoing relationships based on unified vision and understanding emerged? 
Please share your thoughts and what is going on in your corner of Pachamama in a comment. 
Modern interpretation of the concept of Pachamama.
 In traditional Andean culture, there are no images of Pachamama.