Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Death of Environentalism

Jonathan Adler at Volokh points to a very interesting article by Roger Pielke, Jr on the rapid decline of the number of people who identify themselves as environmentalists (80% in 1991, 40% now). Pielke poses some interesting questions:
If we were in one of my environmental policy classes, an obvious question to ask of this data would be, does this trend reflect a failure of the environmental movement? A failure of the public? Something else?
Adler comments:
Does this mean that Americans are less supportive of environmental protection than in the past? I doubt it. One possibility is that an increasing percentage of Americans reject the idea that the environmentalist movement has a monopoly on what it means to be "pro-environment."
I think that Adler's on to something, which is also reflected in the comments to Pielke's post:
Interesting. I really hadn’t considered that “Environmentalist” was becoming synonomous w/ extremist. I just started letting my memberships drop about 15 years ago - the near-constant apocalyptic fear-mongering, the money begging, the Alar debacle; it just got to be too much.
What's important for the "Environmental Movement" is donations to keep the machine running. What's important to most of the public is clean air, clean water, etc. The environmental organizations have identified themselves with the movement, and the public isn't buying it. And so the organizations turn the volume up to 11 in their fund raising.

When you combine this mismatch with the overall decline of brand power, you have a bad moon rising. While we all are willing to be persuaded, nobody likes to be sold. As the organizations have "professionalized," their brand has shifted from "Environment" to "Friends of the Earth" or "World Wildlife Federation." These are not the same thing, and from this poll, it looks like the public in general doesn't think these organizations are doing a very good job.

The same thing has happened to feminism. Most people support women's rights, but most do not identify themselves as feminists. Dr. Helen nailed why:
I tend to agree with Smithy--although I will go a step further and say it is not craziness on the part of unhinged feminists--it is craftiness. There is a logic and the subtle art of propaganda in these feminists' statistics that scream "give me more funding for women's issues ASAP."
So what we're seeing is brand damage. It seems not to be damage to the movement's brand (protecting the environment or women's rights); support for these seems to be high. The damage is occuring to the organization's brands.
  • Do I support protecting the environment? Sure, within reason.
  • Do I support Friends of the Earth? Dunno. What's their agenda?
The Internet is making all of this much easier - organizations can organize and tap into money that they never could before. Expect this sort of damage to accelerate, as the organizations increasingly focus on their hard core (money donating) supporters.

The whole Anthropogenic Global Warming debate smells precisly like this, and is potentially enormously damaging to the green movement. There's also a danger to Second Amendment rights groups, too. The NRA sometimes looks like they think that they're the movement, but the Heller case history says otherwise. That's brand damage waiting to happen, if it hasn't already.

UPDATE 17 August 11:02: The Mainstream Media is now seen by a large portion of the public (their former subscribers/viewers) as continually trying to sell us a particular point of view. To the detriment of their bottom lines.

UPDATE 17 August 11:17: Reason Hit and Run offers an outstanding example of this sort of silliness. Just read it.

1 comment:

JD said...

The environmental movement lost me when they passed title 5 in MA. The government stepped in and said we don't care if you septic tank works or is in good shape, we say it is bad, fails and you get to pay to put in a new one. . .. this is usually about $30K on your house sale.

Nice to have happen to you when the system was good but a pipe was 4 inches lower than they wanted it.

This showed me they weren't about the environment, they were about abuse of power in the name of saving the planet. They have no connection to reality and what we can and can not afford to do. They also don't care what impact these silly rules have on people.

So now I say Drill now, Drill everywhere. "Earth first, we'll strip mind the other planets later"

= )

Actually I am rather fond of our environment but I do think we need to balance what we do and think it out first for all impact it may have on us and the planet. . . .