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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Enviro Lobby, Get Serious!

Air Date: Week of

Here in the United States we'll soon hold another Congressional election. And on its heels will come the beginnings of the next race for the White House. Commentator Michael Silverstein says it's time for US environmental activists to learn how to play political hardball. Mr. Silverstein is president of Environmental Economics in Philadelphia.


CURWOOD: Here in the United States, we'll soon hold another Congressional election, and on its heels will come the beginnings of the next race for the White House. Commentator Michael Silverstein says it's time for US environmental activists to learn how to play political hardball.

SILVERSTEIN: On a recent Sunday the New York Times ran an article that neatly, if painfully, summed up the present state of American environmentalism. This story featured an industry observer commenting on the precipitous decline on the demand for environmental improvement in recent years. It also noted that one quarter of environmental enterprises operating in 1994 are no longer in business. A later issue of the Times carried 2 other stories that help explain environmentalism's current doldrums. One described the Sierra Club's curious debate about the merits of immigration. The other reported that some members of New York's Green Party were considering placing Mumia Abu- Jamal, a convicted murderer, on the ballot as their party's nominee for the US Senate.

I read about the Sierra Club's immigration dalliance and about the Green Party's politically-correct idiocy, in light of the sad decline in the recent fortunes of environmentalism, and I thought: What kind of people are fronting my beliefs? What kind of people are piddling away our movement's enormous popularity, its great material and intellectual resources on such diversions? If Israel had backers like this, the Holy Land today would be governed by Bedouins. If the AARP lobbied this way, Social Security would have been abolished in 1965.

In today's Beltway jungle, where you feed or get eaten, environmentalism has become everybody's Bambi. Environmental groups are the least feared, most copiously patronized players on the American political scene. It's time for this to change, truly. It's time to stop being nice guys and heroic losers and to play the political game to win. With this in mind, here are some specific suggestions that might give environmentalists like myself some greater rewards in coming years than a show of flannel shirts on Earth Day.

First, let's not dilute our credibility by sharing it. Environmentalism isn't about racial, gender, or social justice, and it's not a branch of consumerism. It's about ecosystems and pollution. Other causes have grown fat buddying up with environmentalists while we've been sucked dry.

Next, let's never accept anything but the top spot on any legislative or administrative agenda, and never forgive or forget pols who don't give us that kind of priority. Also, let's never accept symbols in lieu of concrete achievements. Talk's cheap. We should reward it accordingly.

And finally, let's never assume that a candidate, any candidate, is really on our side because of past statements, books, or sincere-sounding emotings. We should lay out an agenda and the dates by which specific actions are to be accomplished. We should then demand a candidate sign the pledge, commit in writing to taking these actions by these dates. Tax protestors and groups on both sides of the abortion issue have used this technique successfully for years. They get things done. They get respect. They win. It would be nice if some time soon, we did, too.

CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein is President of Environmental Economics in Philadelphia.



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