Enviros catch the soul train

Activists say that in order to save itself, the movement needs less scolding and more spirit.

Published May 27, 2005 6:28PM (EDT)

Environmentalism hasnt given up the ghost. Its just in need of a little soul-searching.

Thats the message of "The Soul of Environmentalism," a spirited response to last year's "Death of Environmentalism," which was released on Thursday morning in San Francisco at the Delancey Street Foundation.

"We survived a virus!" cheered Michael Dorsey, a Dartmouth College professor of environmental studies and one of the new papers co-authors, before an audience of activists and foundation folks. "Those media guys tried to inject death into our movement. We beat back the grim reaper and those eco-necrophiliacs. We knew and we know when we look around that environmentalism is alive."

But that doesnt mean that the movement doesnt need help. Among the recommendations in the "Soul" paper is that mainstream environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, adopt a "15 percent solution"  dedicating 15 percent of their budgets to "deep change." Want to figure out how to stop just playing defense against the plunder-the-earth corporate elites, while simultaneously bringing new people and new ideas into the movement? Well, its going to cost you.

Julie Sze, a professor of American Studies at the University of CaliforniaDavis, cautioned the crowd of true believers that they won't find new converts by decrying consumerism: "A lot of people dont care, and youre not going to get them to care by moralizing and wagging a finger," she said.

If scolding wont work, maybe omens will. Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who has advocated at the United Nations on behalf of native people who are already experiencing the ill effects of climate change, told the audience: "We have prophecies as native people. Things are going to get very difficult, whether youre inland or on the coasts."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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