Postscript: A new focus for environmentalists

July 6, 2010   by Stephen Murgatroyd

Stephen Murgatroyd

What a difference a year makes. Last year the environmental movement was gearing up for a major breakthrough at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, which was positioned as “the last chance” we had to save the planet. But polluters couldn’t agree with the small islands and the developing world so the negotiations fell apart, with a compromise “let’s-look-as-if-we-might-save-the-planet” deal being signed off by a few countries at the end of a tough 10 days of negotiations.

Now the environmental movement is hoping for a new reality that will culminate in new global climate change talks in Brazil later this year, but the game is up. There will not be a meaningful commitment to climate change mitigation involving all of the leading polluters, especially the US, China, India and Canada. What’s more, the general public in Canada, the US and Britain are all signalling that climate change is less of a priority for them now than it was five years ago.

So now the environmental movement is going through its own metamorphoses. According to The Guardian (UK), “the economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world is even more powerful than the argument for tackling climate change, a major report for the United Nations will declare this summer”—a fact reinforced by the psychological, social and economic impacts of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

One reason for this shift is money. Many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight to protect nature are busy securing funds from those who are also destroying the environment through mining and exploration. Sierra Club—the biggest green group in the US—was approached in 2008 by the maker of Clorox bleach, which said if the club endorsed its new range of “green” household cleaners, it would get a percentage of the sales. The club’s Corporate Accountability Committee said the deal created a blatant conflict of interest—but took it anyway. Money talks and it’s saying biodiversity and environmental impacts of pollution, deforestation, land use changes and other matters are more important than climate change.

Lack of action
A second reason is public opinion. People are becoming disaffected by all the talk about the need for a response to climate change, lack of action and the costs of the actions that need to be taken. In the US, public support for action on climate change is down from 46% of the population to 36% in just one year.

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