The Ecology of Activism, or Why Greenpeace Needs Earth First!

environmental activists ecology photo

Image credit: Fibonacci Blue, used under Creative Commons license.

I've been thinking a lot about the importance of self reflection in the environmental movement lately. But in reality, it's not just a question of every environmentalist accepting they might be wrong—important though that is—but rather embracing the idea that it is OK for us to have diverging strategies, and even differing views, if we are working toward the same broad goals. Entrenched Arguments Rarely Win
When we feel passionate about something—be it animal rights, cutting carbon emissions, or nuclear power—it can be tempting to dig ourselves into entrenched positions, and to focus at all costs on winning the argument on our own terms. This is, I believe, what commenter Emmy was referring to as the "me, me, me" approach in response to my post on why admitting I am wrong means I am right.

Yet if there's one lesson that most of us learn in life, it is that it is hard to get your own way. And that fact holds just as true for environmental and political movements as it does for individuals. So instead of arguing about whether we should be promoting sustainable business practices, or pushing for zero economic growth, or promoting birth control—green-minded activists would do well to recognize that they are part of a broader movement with shared end goals, but different means of getting there.

Broad Alliances Are Crucial
In many ways this is the same point that Matthew was making when he quoted Michael Pollan on the need for omnivores, vegans and vegetarians to unite and fight factory farms. Although I would take issue with the idea that vegans and conscious meat eaters shouldn't continue to debate the relative merits of their approaches (as if that's going to happen anyway!), but rather that we accept that we are trying to affect change in systems beyoind our control. We need to view ourselves more as agents of change, not architects, and to build broad alliances—even with those we disagree with on other issues.

We Are Gardeners, Not Engineers
The environmental movement is part of a broader shifting social phenomenon that will undoubtedly cause radical change, just not in the predictable, linear manner that we might expect it to. I've argued before that gardening is the best metaphor for everything, and this holds true just as much for activism as it does engineering.

More on Environmental Activism, Strategy and Communication
Gardening is the Best Metaphor for Everything. Even Engineering.
Why Admitting I am Wrong Means I am Right, So STFU!
What If Every Environmentalist is Wrong?

Related Content on