With Congress Approaching Green Gridlock, Let's Seize the Moment to Regroup, Refine & Redefine

washington monument dark clouds photo

photo: Allie_Caulfield/Creative Commons

Now that hopefully everyone has regained their breath after last week's elections, and the resulting overload of the sky is falling for the environmental movement, we're never ever ever going to get anything done ever in these dark dark days when Lord Sauron reigns and governors pledge to kill high-speed rail, commentary that flowed forth across the blogosphere has subsided, we can get back to work. Let's face it, though government action is a key part of creating a more socioenviro-sustainable world, there is plenty that can be done while the Feds continue to butt heads with one another.

In a way (and I admit that it's perhaps a bit early to be looking for a silver lining in the Congressional turn to the right but I'll do it anyway), this is an opportunity for the green movement to regroup. We now know that for at least the next two years the odds of climate legislation coming out of the US are slim to none, and that means that the odds of an international deal are equally slim. Not a good thing by a long shot considering we've already dragged our collective feet for too long, but equally not as dire as it may first seem. We now have been given two years (whether we like it or not) to redefine our priorities, to refine our messaging, and most importantly to focus on community building and practical action.

350.org global work party photo

photo: 350.org/Creative Commons

To pull back the green curtain a bit on the TreeHugger editorial process: In fact this redefinition of green messaging is something we've been discussing a lot lately. How do we reach more people? What are the next big issues in green? What's the best way in for those people who aren't necessarily inclined to embrace eco-sustainability as its traditionally been framed?

These are much deeper questions than simply procedural questions. It seems obvious, not just after last week but frankly over the entire past year, as a movement we obviously don't have the messaging right. The grassroots movement that is needed before any concerted and meaningful government action is taken--be it on climate, energy, sustainable food, what have you--simply isn't there, even if it's larger than it once was.

The folks at 350.org had it entirely right this year when they organized the Global Work Party on October 10th. We need to focus on what work can be done locally, in our communities, in our homes, and for ourselves. We need to take it well beyond a single day of action every year.

We need to reconcile what I tend to call Green 1.0, the simple green steps mentality that prevailed when TreeHugger was founded and started to bring more people on board, with the Green 2.0 brand of political activism that prevailed over the past two years or so and which began once it became obvious that changing lightbulbs, recycling and buying organic jeans wasn't sufficient to create enough change to solve the (still) looming problems of climate change, natural resource depletion of many types, and astonishing biodiversity loss.

I don't have the answer on how to do that--and there is no doubt not one right answer and we do need both--but it's what's been weighing on my mind for the past few months, and now has been thrust sharply to the fore in the past week. But more than anything, even if the method isn't clear, I am convinced that this is what needs to be done.

fern in shape of heart photo

photo: ~maya*maya~/Creative Commons

Some of where I am now, not necessarily in any order:

Redoubling efforts to make these bigger-than-self environmental problems tangible for people, even in places where the current effects are particularly noticeable yet is crucial. No doubt this is tough, but empathy is a powerful force.

Focus on issues that directly affect people is also critical: Sustainable food, health issues, community building issues--and how to begin as rapid a transition as possible towards making these issues the big ones and change the status quo. Not only do you have an immediate way in for people, but tackling them also goes a long way towards addressing some of the big environmental problems at he same time. If you don't have mental effort to care about far off (geographic or temporal) environmental problems, you may well have effort to care about the food you eat and the people around you.

In approach, emphasize the good efforts that everyday people are doing (and they are there; I'm always amazed by how much good work is being done out there that never gets publicized); lead by example rather than finger pointing as everyone is at a different point along the path and has different inclinations to engage. It's all too easy to forget both of these points.

We must be life-affirming at all times, embracing love over fear, guilt, and cynicism. The possibility for constructive action when pressed with fear and guilt is severely diminished. Cynicism is wholly destructive. Descending into worry, as Deepak Chopra eloquently explained back in June, won't save the world at all--it just constrains your ability to see things as they are and act from that place of power.

As I said, I don't pretend to have all the answers here. I'd love to hear what all of you think the next big green issues will be, or ought to be, and what you plan on doing in your community, now that the political road ahead appears to be gridlocked.

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More on Politics:
Next Step on Climate? We Have a Choice
Obama: Climate Reform Dead for at Least Two Years
Election 2010: What it Means for Climate, Clean Energy & Green
New Governors Kills $1.2 Billion High Speed Rail Line in Ohio & Wisconsin

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