Divided We Fall? The Role of Debate in the Environmental Movement


Image credit: "Professional Disagreement" by pasukaru76, used under Creative Commons license.

When I asked, in my own skeptic atheist way, whether we must embrace the sacred to survive peak oil, commenter robertrfiske urged us to not "feed that beast" of division. After all, he argued, ideological differences will be exploited by opponents of the green movement to bring us down. We heard similar arguments when Lloyd covered Bill McDonough's trashing by Fast Company, Anonymous stated that the magazine had just "just hurt the movement quite significantly for no reason". Which all gets me to wondering—what is the proper role of debate within the environmental movement?I do understand the point that these commenters are trying to make. With anti-environmentalists gunning for us greenies at every turn (metaphorically speaking, for now at least), there is a danger that the movement for sustainability could descend into infighting and ideological warfare, akin to the infamous "Judean People's Front" scene in the Life of Brian. (Look it up on YouTube if you don't get the reference.)

There is nothing that the likes of arch-skeptic Lord Monckton, or far-right global warming denialist Nick Griffin, would like to see more than environmentalists turning on each other to thrash out our differences.

But the trouble is that those differences exist, whether we like it or not. And they are profound. While we may have broad agreement that climate change is happening and the threat is severe, and even an emerging body of evidence suggesting that peak oil really is nigh, that's about where the agreement ends.

What we actually do about these challenges remains fiercely contested. And rightly so. Whether it's the economic questions of a no growth economy versus a corporate approach to the climate battle, or the age-old debate over carbon offsets as indulgences, we are kidding ourselves if we think we have anywhere close to consensus on any number of issues. (Don't even get me started on the sustainable animal husbandry versus vegan organic agriculture controversy.)

The fact is that the green movement is not a political party, and can't even pretend to have the discipline of such an organization. In many ways, I'm not even sure that the green movement is even a movement. But rather it is at its heart a broadly-held, emerging worldview that recognizes, as another commenter on my post about sacredness and peak oil put it, that we can't continue to "use the earth as a mechanical extraction resource and convenient sink for our trash".

What matters is not whether we debate our differences, but how we do it. And as with most things in life, the first thing we need to recognize is that none of us knows for certain what is coming, and we are all trying our best to find answers to the unprecedented challenges ahead of us. As the saying goes—trust those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it.

More on Controversies in the Green Movement
The Carbon Neutral Myth? Protesters Hit Offset Companies
Is That Carrot Really Vegan? Vegan Organic Agriculture
Must We Embrace the Sacred to Survive Peak Oil?
Disasterbation Turns You Blind

Tags: Activism | Ethical | Global Climate Change | Peak Oil