Thursday, August 27, 2009

The New Environmental Movement

It was bound to happen that after the initial wave of new business opportunities for 'greenies' crested. In the downturn of the market, many of us involved in the green building industry, for example, wound up with too much free time on our hands as the demand for buildings came to a screeching halt.
Competition has been fierce for the few projects out there- a few months ago I was part of a team in competition with more than a dozen firms for a public project that had budgeted less than $5 million for its museum. Word in the news is the economy is ready to dig itself out, and we can expect recovery soon. Good news for folks like me who have had to look to other skills to pay the bills.
These past two weeks for me have been marked by a few friends in the green job sector declaring they are getting out of the business and going to something more rewarding- such as teaching high school chemistry. Many cite that the movement for sustainability is in good hands and they can stop trying so hard, while others are disgruntled or disillusioned by the undermining of core values and bureaucracy clogging the real progress.
I'm seeing a schism in the environmental movement. There are those who have their hearts in saving the planet, those who distrust big business and their government, those who believe that we must do everything to stop global climate change including making enormous sacrifices. On the other hand are the businesses making profits from new opportunities and funding, those who make fortunes out of providing others with theories on how to be green, and the latest wave of celebrities making career comebacks by promoting sustainability. The irony here is that the most diehard of the group were unprepared for their movement to become so mainstream, and now that its taken off, some are being left behind by the new boom.
It seems were are in for an overhaul as a movement. One of those who will no doubt have a lasting impact on where environmentalism will take its next turn is none other than the pioneer Stewart Brand, with his latest book Whole Earth Discipline: A Ecopragmatist Manifesto.
I consider myself an informed scientist when it comes to environmental issues. At the urging of a friend many years ago, I began to rely on my science news from primary research publications rather than hearsay and standard news reports. In fact, I've found in the past few years that much of the information passed on from one greenie to another just doesn't jive with what the research is showing, and have found myself more and more reluctant to call myself an environmentalist.
Brand has made it his mission to examine the core values of the environmental movement and root out its myths in this latest book. He seems to be asking the question, "What has the environmental movement done for the world?"

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