April 8th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan
If you haven’t heard the news yet, two huge environmental organizations just decided to merge — 350.org, which organized what was reportedly the biggest day of global action in October (the 10/10/10 day of global action), and 1Sky, a great organization that has inspired many and accomplished much in recent years.
To be honest, they were already using the same colors, so why not merge?…
But, seriously, this is big news and I’m sure a lot of people are wondering if it’s for better or worse.
Betsy Taylor, who has been the chair of 1sky, and Bill McKibben, who is the chair of 350.org, wrote on why they are merging yesterday and I’ll say that their comments reminded me a ton of my recommendation for the environmental movement in the conclusion of my 112-page undergraduate thesis on the transformation of the environmental movement and the state of environmental consciousness and action in the U.S. in 2003-2004.
Let’s get into a few big issues on this matter.
What’s the Use in Having So Many Environmental Organizations?
Many might wonder, “Why are there so many environmental organizations? Aren’t they competing with each other or fighting too much?” Well, maybe sometimes, but often they actually tackle different topics or different areas and are supplementing each other or just in completely different fields that we too generally refer to as the environment. It’s like saying, “hey, why do we need so many shops, why not just one shop?” Well, different shops specialize in different things and they wouldn’t all exist if they didn’t serve a purpose.
However, of course, sometimes they overlap. On the one hand, this may be good, because while one person may want to help but may only be willing to give the minimum membership dues to an organization, they may be willing to give that same minimum to multiple organizations (and so, in total, give more to the overarching cause). As the director of a non-profit for one year, I found that a lot of people do this. They act like intelligent investors, not putting all their money into one place but spreading it around amongst multiple potentially worthy projects or groups.
However, while this diversity and variety and multiplicity may be useful in some ways, it does leave something out.
The Benefits of Building a Super-Org like The New 350.org
The benefits of building a more central environmental organization are important, and it is why I thought this was so needed 7 years ago (let alone today).
1) Many people are overwhelmed and confused by the large variety of environmental orgs. As such, rather than look to one for guidance, they prefer to just disengage and assume that others are doing something and the organizations will take care of things if they put in their $25 or $35 (this disengaging topic is one I’m going to come back to below, in section #3).
There is no clear organization who the public or even the media can go to for the “environmental movement’s” perspective on large environmental topics (in particular, global warming and climate change politics), national and global topics. There is no clear organization that influences the public’s opinion on this matter, that people can rely on to give them the definitive “green” opinion.
The same goes for our members of Congress. (And why is this important, why can’t they just get the opinion of one organization? I’ll get to that more in section #4.)
2) Furthermore, the power of the anti-environmental movement (Big Oil, Big Coal, the “U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” and.. well, that’s the most of it) is tremendous. They have money. They spend their money to influence politicians and public opinion in ways that the environmental movement cannot, especially all divided up as it is.
This movement needs to come together, pool resources, and become a bigger presence in the eyes of the people and politicians in order to combat the influence carried by the oil and coal billionaires and the plutocracy we’ve developed into.
1Sky & 350.org get this (and I am more than happy about that).
As Bill McKibben & Betsy Taylor write:
there are moments, and this is one of them, when unity is essential. We’re up against the most sustained assault on the environment ever: in the last few weeks our oldest environmental groups have had to play nonstop defense just to keep Congress from gutting the Clean Air Act. A president elected on the promise of transformational energy change has reverted to opening vast tracts of Wyoming to new coal-mining. A tea-party House has actually voted to deny the science of global warming.
Behind all this is a very unified fossil-fuel industry. Working through the Koch Brothers, the US Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of other fronts they’re busy buying votes and supplying disinformation. And they’re winning. To fight back effectively, we need a much louder voice.
Yes. And that is why they’ve merged.
3) The environmental movement started out as a very active movement. And while it has perhaps grown in volume and “green” has become mainstream, I would say it has become much more disengaged, or distracted.
We sign petitions, send emails, and perhaps even write blogs, but who is listening. If our Congressman ignore us, who cares? Is the media picking up on the massive email/petition campaigns and noting how powerful they are? I think not. Sure, they can’t hurt,… or can they?
In switching to this form of “activism,” we may sooth our guilt and knowledge that we need to do our part to protect the environment that we all rely on to live. In the meantime, what is changed?
We need to get more engaged. We need more direct action again. 1Sky and 350.org have moved in that direction, but together they could help get a lot more people on their feet, I think. Ask your neighbor or mainstream friend if they’ve heard of either organization. My bet would be they haven’t. But hopefully they will have heard 350.org in a year or two.
This direct action issue doesn’t just lie on the shoulders of a couple of big organizations, though. And it is something I’m intending to come back to a lot more in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
4) Now, the last issue. Who is holding politicians’ feet to the fire? No one. Practically no one (I’ll admit that CREDO is doing a tremendous job and is the breakthrough company of the past few years in my eyes.)
Politicians can run on green platforms, have totally non-green records, and no one needs to know.
A larger, central organization like the new 350.org, can (and I hope will) do a better job at bringing hypocritical politicians to the public’s eye, holding them accountable for their votes on environmental topics (and not just for those who care enough to check out their voting records once they’re compiled, but for the majority of folks who do care a great deal about the environment but aren’t as politically engaged).
This organization, hopefully, can be the environmental watchdog that makes more politicians vote green, not just talk green. (Yes, maybe I’m being a little idealistic here, but I think the folks at The New 350.org are as well and will be looking to transform politics in the United States as much as possible.) More from Betsy and Bill:
We have learned over time that you can’t win simply by explaining the crisis to political leaders; they may intellectually understand that they’re facing the end of the world, but what they really fear is the end of their political careers. We need to build a movement that can reward and punish politicians.
How are you feeling? Psyched? Confused? Inspired?
Drop us a note.
Image via 350.org
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Doesn’t Speak for Me — How About You?
- The People v. Big Energy: Bangladesh Protests Against Coal Mine Project Grow [Video]
- Government Shutdown 2011: See How Much Republican Politicians Are Willing to Screw the U.S.?
- Funny Dancing Video & Insightful Commentary
Keep up to date with all the most interesting green news on the planet by subscribing to our (free) Planetsave newsletter.