From Trout to Polar Bear: How the Environmental Movement Lost America
By shifting control to cities and the pricing of proposals like the Green New Deal, their focus shifted outside of the mainstream.
Have you ever wondered why the polar bear is the mascot of choice for the climate movement?
Once upon a time there was a very different idea of environmental protection than it is today. During the reign of President Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s, hunters were widely regarded as outstanding individuals who cared for the land and the animals that they so often belonged to. Ranchers and farmers had their place in environmental talks because, after all, they have spent their entire lives caring for nature. Environmental protection has been an issue advocated by those who have spent most of their time in the environment. Ducks, trout and white-tailed deer – no polar bears.
However, a line was drawn in the 1970s. America’s hunters, farmers, ranchers, and anglers, in many ways the original conservationists, have been separated from the environmental movement. Groups like Greenpeace and PETA would not tolerate connecting with those who interacted with them – and in their opinion ruined-Land and wildlife. It didn’t matter to them that athleticism and livestock were the original protective measures by farming the population and funding the protection of the ecosystem.
At the macro level, this change meant a major shift within the environmental movement towards a more emotional and political message. Instead of the salt-of-the-earth image of the rural population as environmentalists, the modern movement was dominated by predominantly metropolitan voices who valued idealistic notions of “natural” conservation versus pragmatic conservation. The image of the polar bear emerged, conveying Rousseauian notions of fuzzy natural beauty that was not tainted by humans, unlike those pesky farmers and athletes.
This idealism is best embodied today by a radical movement of eco-extremists. Progressive environmentalists have given up on reality and common sense by turning to alarmism. One in five young children in the UK now has nightmares about climate change, which probably has to do with popular politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez saying, “The world will end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change. ”Some groups urge couples not to have children to avoid“ climate genocide ”. Given that at the height of the pandemic, Extinction Rebellion stickers were popped up stating that “Corona is the cure, people are the disease”. It’s no wonder people took them at face value, even though they eventually turned out to be fake.
A cynic might say that these modern day climate activists are creating a secular religion to fill an existential crisis in their life. Indeed, global warming is often portrayed as a kind of cosmological struggle of existential proportions in which devils and angels, sin and redemption live. Fossil fuel executives, rural communities, and conservatives are the antagonists of the story. Vegans, intersectional climate activists and progressives who signal virtues are the protagonists. Economic growth and capitalism are the deadly sins, degrowth and eco-socialism are the only redemption. What could be more just and sacred than returning to a pre-industrial idealized society of nature worship and spending carbon-free days singing kumbaya?
However, this moralization of climate change is a psychological ploy only for those looking for a moral framework that can replace meaning in their secular life. For most people, environmental protection is not a convincing religion. It slanders things that people normally enjoy, such as progress and prosperity, growth and innovation. It imposes unreasonable commands on its followers (you shouldn’t fly, you shouldn’t eat meat) and start disproportionate witch hunts against those who blaspheme against the forced narrative. This is one of the reasons why athletes and rural communities are so often skeptical of the climate movement. They realize that it’s about ideology and emotions, not the practical implications and ramifications of the environmental problems they experience on a daily basis.
Even so, progressive environmentalists with a motivation as exciting as a secular higher power will always justify giving ideology priority over action. In fact, just last week, more than 300 progressive environmental groups tried to block a non-partisan energy package because it didn’t go as far as they wanted. The groups even claimed that the legislation contained “dirty handouts”. It didn’t matter that this was the result of countless bipartisan discussions or funded the development of technologies (like nuclear energy and carbon capture) that would mean millions of tons less carbon in the atmosphere.
Because of this, many of the modern environmental movement remain suspicious. It’s not because most of the country doesn’t believe in climate change. This is because to those local who see environmental problems every day, the progressive environmental agenda sounds hollow. When the Green New Deal, the scripture of choice for the climate movement, encompasses everything from racial justice to health care to job guarantees, it becomes painfully clear how far the debate is from empirical reality. We need specific, targeted solutions, not uniform top-down plans that make climate change immaterial for the average American. In his book Enlightenment nowHarvard psychologist Steven Pinker writes that when told that only a widespread social revolution can solve the apocalypse, or otherwise, people are less likely to accept the reality of climate change and choose to respond. However, they feel a lot more inclined to be proactive in approaching the problem when they are told that innovative, targeted solutions can and do exist.
So it is obvious that the modern environmental movement would be far better off if we had not been so sharply divided almost 50 years ago. To tackle a problem as big as climate change we need different perspectives and ideologies, including those of athletes and farmers on the front lines of a changing climate. We will get nowhere if we continue to allow the environmental movement to prioritize pseudo-religious activism over tangible action.
Christopher Barnard is the national policy director for the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).
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