Goddamn TreeHuggers: Why Do So Many People Hate Environmentalists?

Image credit: Liquor Snob

When I wrote about BP failing f***ing booming school, most commenters were understandably shocked and disgusted at the disdain shown by drilling crews for proper clean up procedures. One commenter, however, saw it differently. KP dismissed the BP oil slick as nothing more than an "unfortunate mishap, a huge curve ball from the earth's unlimited reserves" before berating us environmentalists for our liberal attitudes, and encouraging us to enjoy another "tofu kelp shake". It was, once again, a reminder that there are a heck of a lot of people out there who just love to hate environmentalists.

So what's up with that? Whether it's holocaust denier and climate skeptic Nick Griffin's accusations that environmentalists are pursuing a Stalinist/Maoist agenda, or commenters accusing us of behaving like Nazis for daring to claim there is a consensus on climate change among climatologists, there's no shortage of people out there who believe that we greenies have some kind of dark, sinister and unpleasant motive in our evil quest to (gasp) keep this Earth inhabitable for the foreseeable future.

Even many folks who don't believe in a vast Al Gore-led conspiracy seem to view environmentalists as party-poopers at best, and poe-faced killjoys at worst. The Audi Superbowl Green Police ad is a prime example. While some pundits may have tried to put a positive spin on it, arguing that it showed a mainstreaming of green values. But I for one felt it was just one more reminder that environmentalism has an image problem.

But where does that image problem come from?

There's no doubt that environmentalists themselves are at least partially to blame. From green living as passive aggressive preaching, to talk of green religion and 'eco-sins', there is an unpleasant (and I would argue ineffective) judgmental streak evident in much of the green movement. But that can't be the only thing going on.

I am not, in general, one who believes in the concept of eco-villains, preferring instead to talk more about bad ideas than bad people. But it would be crazy to ignore the fact that there are plenty of companies and organizations whose short term interests are served by undermining the environmental message. And many of these folks are willing to go to great lengths to discredit all greens as socialists, or to cast doubt on established climate science.

Sadly, those efforts may be working. A recent poll shows a sharp decline in concern over climate change in the UK public. It seems with a recession in full swing, there is little appetite for listening to climate scientists—no matter how strong the consensus remains that we are in deep, deep trouble.

But what, if anything, can be done to reverse this shift?

I've already argued that we need to avoid disasterbation and scaremongering at all costs. But we need to go beyond avoiding negatives—we have to find the points where environmental concerns intersect with people's everyday lives. Talking about climate change is important—but making the connection between oil dependence and our economic woes, or the terrible catastrophe occurring on the Gulf Coast, is a much more immediate and pressing concern for most people. And we need to present a sustainable, vibrant vision of the future where living green brings more pleasure and sustainability is more interesting than destruction. It's the only way to stop the hate.

One more note on that front—there will always be those who hate environmentalists whatever we do. We don't need to concern ourselves with converting those on the extreme of anti-environmentalist thought, but rather recapture the middle ground of the narrative, and thus isolate said extremists. Effectively and strategically aligning environmentalism with the concerns of mainstream citizens is the single most important challenge facing us TreeHuggers. Who's up for it?

Tags: Activism | United States