Welcome Douglas Bevington, and Host Robert S. Eshelman.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear

Robert Eshelman, Host:

Douglas Bevington’s The Rebirth of Environmentalism comes at a very important moment. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest in U.S. history. Then another in Michigan. Heat waves and record temperatures across the South and along the East Coast. Massive fires in Russia, that ripped into wheat supplies and sent prices soaring. Floods in Pakistan that have displaced at least 20 million people, one-fifth of that country’s population.

These, of course, are all singular events. But this severe weather is consistent with the warnings of climate scientists. And the spills serve as further evidence of the destruction brought about by the fossil fuel industry.

Bevington surveys a different time – the late 1980s and 1990s. But his case studies and analysis offer ample evidence of how the environmental movement might grapple with the treats of climate change today and the political follies on show on the international level during U.N. climate negotiations and within the D.C. beltway around U.S. energy and climate policy. A lot has change since the period of time he covers in the pages of The Rebirth of Environmentalism. But not enough has changed. Many of the challenges that dogged the environmental movement then continue to be apropos to today’s political challenges.

Bevington describes in great detail an important shift that occurred in the environmental movement in the ‘80s and ‘90s– the rise of grassroots organizations focused on the issue of biodiversity and their utilization of an array of environmental laws that brought to a halt a host of environmentally destructive practices.

At the time ten large environmental organizations – “the nations” – served as the deciders of the movements’ agenda. They lobbied Congress and state legislators and relegated millions of their organization’s members to a simple role as dues payers, who did little more than fill out an occasional post-card for or against a particular piece of legislation. Often these organizations valued political compromise over science-based political outcomes.

Increasingly critical of the national’s ineffectiveness and their frequent tendency for political sell-outs, a grassroots movement grew that emphasized direct confrontation with the companies that were destroying the environment. On the forefront of this movement was Earth First!, whose members often put themselves at great physical risk to prevent the destruction of old-growth forests on the West Coast. They chained themselves to logging equipment. They blocked logging roads. They conducted “tree-sits” that prevented the felling of thousand-year-old trees. Sometimes they even sabotaged – “monkeywrenching” – logging equipment. The group’s motto – No compromise in defense of mother earth. – summed up well where members drew the line in terms of their political goals. As Bevington points out: “Earth First! was the antithesis of the nationals. It lacked any formal organization and did not seek nonprofit status. It also had no official members. Instead, being an Earth First!er was defined through direct participation. An Earth First!er was someone who identified with Earth First!’s values and took part in its activities.”

Central to Earth First!’s values was the concept of biocentrism, which, as Bevington describes, is “the belief that all species of life have inherent worth and an intrinsic right to exist.” This cut dramatically against the view of nature held by, say, logging companies, which sought to put a price matrix over all aspects of the natural world. Where Earth First!ers saw a bounty of life, which should remain uncommodified by the market and its corporate legions, the companies saw profit.

While, the group’s ecological philosophy signaled an important evolution in the environmental movement’s conception of nature (that the environment was not only a bucolic setting to enjoy for leisure but a vast and interconnected system to which humans are inextricably linked), its tactics had significant drawbacks. They often slowed the process of forest destruction and brought heaps of media attention to the cause, but failed to bring a halt to forest destruction and often alienated allies.

In some circumstances the direct action tactics of the emerging grassroots pushed the nationals to take a less compromising stance. Other times the nationals proved to be a major obstacle to greater environmental protections, selling grassroots efforts short in an effort to reach a political deal.

Between these two poles – one emphasizing compromise rather than principle, the other taking a non-compromising stance yet unable to fully bring to a halt the system of ecological destruction through direct action – emerged a “third way.” Organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity fought tooth and nail, often on a shoestring budget, in courts across the nation, utilizing an array of environmental laws passed on the federal level during the 1970s. These groups incorporated much of the philosophy of the Earth First! movement – indeed many of CBD’s staff emerged from the ranks of Earth First! – but turned to a legal strategy.

And it worked and has continued to work. CBD alone has worked successfully to have hundreds of animals protected by the Endangered Species Act, including the polar bear, and in so doing have blocked the leveling of forests and the poisoning of streams and rivers. They have blocked numerous coal plants from being constructed through the Clean Air Act and have played a leading role in environmental policy on the national scene.

Bevington shows how this new breed of determined and strategically mindful environmental organizations came to achieve great change – and become a new type of national environmental organization. We could do a lot worse by being mindful of the lessons of that time and the analytical perspective Bevington brings to it. Its no exaggeration to say that the lives of hundreds of millions of people and countless species of plants and animals hang in the balance.

62 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Douglas Bevington, The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear”

BevW September 19th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Doug, Welcome to the Lake.

Rob, Thank you for Hosting this Book Salon.

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

My pleasure Bev. Hello Doug. Hello everyone.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Thank you Bev and Rob. I’m glad to be have this opportunity.

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 2:03 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 3

Hi Doug, I thought I’d start things off with a question about the title of your book – “The Rebirth of Environmentalism,” which indicates that you’re arguing that at some point there was a death of a certain type of environmentalism then it emerged once again. When did the death occur and what differentiates the new environmentalism from the old?

dakine01 September 19th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Good afternoon Douglas and Robert and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

Douglas, I have not had a chance to read your book but do have a question (and forgive me if you address this in the book)

With all of the leaning over backwards to support business interests, how do we overcome the actions of groups like that contractor in Pennsylvania, who look on the environment as something only potential terrorists are going to care about then label anyone who is an environmental activist as a terrorist/ Is this the culmination in the opposite direction of the eArth First and other groups?

Not every elected official is going to react even as REndell did.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
In response to Robert Eshelman @ 4

“The Rebirth of Environmentalism” was not the original title of my book. Instead, I had wanted to call it “Boldness Has Genius” after a quote from Goethe that was often cited by environmental leader David Brower. I was writing about this new phenomenon with the US environmental movement over the past twenty years—the grassroots biodiversity protection groups that were achieving major successes. Yet while I was studying these remarkable groups, there was a storm of media attention around an essay called “The Death of Environmentalism.” The authors of it knew about the successes of the grassroots biodiversity groups, but they chose to ignore them in order to have attract more media coverage with their title. So I chose my ultimate title “The Rebirth of Environmentalism” to set the record straight.

Elliott September 19th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Greetings Gentlemen — Looks like a great book and valuable resource. I can’t believe we are sliding backwards nowadays — tragic.

And the BP Oil Disaster could have been used to address climate change, our toxic oil dependence…

Best of luck, Doug, may you inspire the next generation.

Kathryn in MA September 19th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I’m waiting for hempcrete to be legal – environmentally friendly, strong, cheap building material.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:08 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

Hi, could you say a bit more about the Pennsylvannia example you mentioned in your question?

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 2:13 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 6

Yes I remember when “Death of Environmentalism” came out and there was a great deal of criticism for how much of the environmental movement that they overlooked. And, as I said in my opening post, your attentiveness to the challenges and the successes of the environmental movement is extremely valuable, especially now.

I wonder though if we could step back — so to speak — a bit. Can you explain what you mean by – what the environmental justice movement considers to be – biodiversity? Why is it important? I come across it a lot in my journalism work and often time find myself at a loss to really sum up the concept.

dakine01 September 19th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 9

It was reported in the last week or so that a state level “Homeland Security” contractor had been putting together security bulletins listing environmentalists opposed to “Fracking” as potential terrorists to the Natural Gas drillers.

Rendell’s office released copies of all the bulletins and has apologized

But this seems to be one of the work arounds industry is using to avoid having to deal with folks like Earth First and any other people concerned about the environment

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Biodiversity is a term for all of the animals and plants on earth. This is the ‘web of life’ that we all depend on. But regardless whether the readers participating in this salon are directly interested in forest and wildlife protection, or whether you are more involved in other forms of activism, I think that the grassroots biodiversity protection groups have important lessons to teach activists about effectiveness, about how small groups with scant resources can create big policy changes.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:21 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 11

This seems to be indicative of a larger pattern of trying to stigmatize, marginalize, or threaten the groups that actually try to get the root of environmental problems, trying to scare them into not speaking out, or at least to take weaker positions that don’t ultimately solve the problem.

freeman September 19th, 2010 at 2:23 pm

The polar vice caps are largely gone and many scientists have said that there are clear warning signs of an impending mass extinction .The conversation has moved from preventing global warming to how how we can manage to survive it .

The US is the biggest polluter and consumer of the worlds resources generally and we seem to be the largest road block to a global climate agreement with any teeth .

Considering the virtual merger of government with corporate interests , how do we ,as environmentalists, manage to effect the outcome ?

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 12

Yes, its amazing how effective some of the small biodiversity groups were given how few resources they were able to mobilize. Huge differences between them and the big national groups. Can you give some examples of some of their victories?

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
In response to Elliott @ 7

Thanks for your comment. The BP disaster not only showed obvious problems within the oil industry, but also highlighted serious shortcoming of the Obama administration and some of the larger national environmental organizations, who had been willing to turn a blind eye to increased oil drilling as a quid pro quo for cap-and-trade.

cassiodorus September 19th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

How can environmentalists avoid being mere careerists trapped in their apologies for the capitalist system (while, of course, the daily operation of the capitalist system is to “harvest” the planet for commodity-sales while pumping 85 million bbls./day of crude oil and an equal carbon-equivalent of coal into the atmosphere, thus changing the climate for thousands of years to come)?

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

One area where grassroots biodiversity groups have been quite effective is national forest protection. Largely due to appeals and lawsuits from these groups since the late 1980s, the commercial logging of our national forests by timber corporations has dropped to its lowest level since the 1940s. Likewise, grassroots groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have been responsible for an unprecedented increase in the number of animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act. And now the Center for Biological Diversity is at the forefront of developing innovative legal strategies to address the climate crisis.

freeman September 19th, 2010 at 2:34 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 18

Hate to be a cynic here but I believe the timber industry also ran out of old growth timber .

fuckno September 19th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
In response to cassiodorus @ 17

every one tinkering within a broken, capitalist, globalized free market system knowing full well that without changing that system their labors are sisyphean (?), and given the urgency, will not amount to the methane from a meal of beans.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to cassiodorus @ 17

To achieve this, you need an activist community (a “movement culture”) that nurtures critical thinking about the “insider” game in Washington and instead supports using an “outsider” strategy for social change. While the use of an outside approach produced big results for the grassroots biodiversity groups, this is a fragile accomplishment. It goes against powerful cultural codes which channel people into trying to make social change only through conventional forms of political participation. Groups using an outsider strategy are regularly involved in conflicts that lead to controversy and condemnation from prominent figures in the government and media. As many of the grassroots activists I interviewed noted, people want to be liked and, as a result, most people tend to go along with detrimental compromises rather be seen as difficult or disruptive. It is not easy to adopt or sustain an outsider strategy. Activists who choose to pursue this strategy often need the support of a bold movement culture to counterbalance these societal pressures.

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 18

Yes, you discuss the Center for Biological Diversity quite a bit in your book. And they really are a go to source for journalists. They really know environmental policy, law and are pushing for very important environmental protections. (Also, I encourage everyone to go out and support them : http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/ .)

They’ve gone from being a small, hippie outfit – part of the third way as you describe it – that took up the political space between the big national groups and the grassroots direct action efforts during the ‘80s and ‘90s – to one of the leading environmental organizations. Can you talk a bit more about their work?

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:42 pm
In response to freeman @ 19

The timber industry certainly cut a lot of old growth, but there is plenty out there that they are still trying to cut, and it is grassroots groups such as the John Muir Project, Conservation Congress, and Heartwood that are at the forefront of stopping them.

cassiodorus September 19th, 2010 at 2:45 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 21

Thank you for your bold, forthright answer Doug! Have you read Joel Kovel’s “The Enemy Of Nature”? I will be discussing it next Sunday at the anticapitalist meetup next week on DailyKos.com. (The anticapitalist meetup happens every Sunday at 3pm PT/ 6pm ET over at DailyKos.com — there should be one starting in about fifteen minutes!)

freeman September 19th, 2010 at 2:45 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 23

Doug , do you have a statistic for the amount of old growth in the lower 48 states ?

It seems to me I remember there being no more than 3 or 4 % left and that was from something I read years ago.

Is that in the ball park ?

freeman September 19th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Thanx for the link Robert .

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

The Center for Biological Diversity epitomizes this important new form of environmental activism that I profile in The Rebirth of Environmentalism—the grassroots biodiversity group.

In the late 1980s, American biodiversity protection advocates faced a dilemma of choosing between two paths for protecting wildlife, each with notable limitations. The first path was represented by national environmental organizations that relied on the insider strategy commonly used by interest groups in Washington, DC, which depended on privileged access to politicians to influence policy. The problem with this strategy was that it regularly led these organizations to avoid taking strong stands on controversial issues when they believed such stands might hurt their access and influence.

The second path consisted of activists who engaged in direct actions such as sitting in old-growth trees to deter loggers from cutting them down. Because these activists did not rely on an insider strategy they could be as bold as needed, but their direct-action tactics rarely saved biodiversity on a large scale.

Faced with the limitations of each of these two paths, the founders of the Center chose instead to create a third path. Center activists embraced legal tactics, but rejected the constraints of the insider strategy. They were willing to file lawsuits against the federal government for its failure to enforce its own environmental laws in cases the national organizations avoided as potentially controversial.

As a result, the Center has been able to apply the Endangered Species Act far more extensively than had ever been attempted before, achieving an unprecedented increase in biodiversity protection over the past two decades. The Center has thus offered the environmental movement an exciting new path that is simultaneously bold and influential.

To learn more about them, see http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 2:51 pm
In response to freeman @ 25

Looking back, I see that my prior answer to may have given the impression that there is a lot of old growth left. That is not what I meant to say. There is less than 5 percent of the original old-growth forests remaining. What I was trying to convey is that the timber industry is still actively trying to cut down our national forests (at taxpayer expense), and that it is only because of the on-going work of grassroots groups that these new logging projects are being stopped.

dakine01 September 19th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Doug do you know if there’s much interaction between the US environmental groups and those from other countries?

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 27

The Sierra Club has a new Executive Director, Michael Brune. Before joining the Sierra Club, Brune headed the Rainforest Action Network – an organization that has very much supported direct action struggles in the U.S. against mountaintop removal mining and the construction of new coal-fired power plants. What, if anything, do you think this indicates for the future of environmental organizations? Do you think that the Sierra Club might take a more confrontational stance? Do you think enviros should be doing more direct actions a la Earth First!?

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

The Sierra Club is a bit of an anomaly. On the hand, it has a professional staff that generally follows the insider strategy in the manner of other national environmental organizations. But, unlike most nationals, the Sierra Club also has a chapter-level system for participation by its members, and in theory, its members can play a significant role in shaping the Club’s policies. In practice, however, members raised concerns that the staff was constraining the Club from taking stronger positions. One of the chapters in my book chronicles how grassroots activists within the Club tried to apply the latent democratic mechanisms within the organization to improve its national forest protection policies. The grassroots activists were particularly critical of the role played by executive director Carl Pope. Pope has recently stepped down from that role, and Club’s new director, Mike Brune, was previously with a bolder group called Rainforest Action Network. It will be interesting to see whether Brune can stay true to his roots, which could be very helpful for the Club, or whether he instead gets tangled up in the insider approach.

masaccio September 19th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I wonder about court strategies. A huge number of people think they are either in the pocket of industry, or else tht they are anti-democratic, so that their authority is weakened.

Regulatory structures were seriously weakened by the last Bush administration. They lost a lot of good talent, and are infested with moles who hate regulation. Their ability to do stuff is hampered by the inordinate demands of courts for proof that what they are doing meets some amorphous cost-benefit test.

I’m feeling pretty hopeless.

EdwardTeller September 19th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Mr. Bevington,

1). Early this year picked up your book at a bookstore, thinking of purchasing it. I put it back on the shelf. Although I’m a sometimes fan of Earth First! I’m not sure their model will take off quickly enough to matter.

2). Some credit the birth of the modern American environmental movement’s activism to have been the largely indigenous reaction to Project Chariot in the years 1959 to 1961. Your book didn’t seem to give that battle any notice, yet it was grassroots in the extreme, if limited to defeating one very lame idea only.

3). The book didn’t seem to adequately address the need for grassroots confrontation on some of the most egregious environmental catastrophes currently happening.

A). DU in Iraq – how can Iraqis force a physical presence to stop the maiming and deformity of future generations without being gunned down?

B). Incredibly polluting outfalls from new industries in the West Bank in the unregulated settler zones there. When people protest, they get clubbed and shot. What about them? When I wrote to a dozen Israeli and Jordanian environmental orgs about that over the past three months, I received not one response.

C). The Niger Delta, and now our own Gulf beaches and many other places are being policed by well-armed contract thugs, seemingly above the law, on a level Earth First! will never be able to mobilize against effectively. When Lebanese grassroots orgs and individuals tried to clean up the Jiyeh Power Station spill in August 2006, they were gunned down by the IDF.

4). That being said, I do admire your work. I agree with the premises of your book about the ineffectual nature of the way our mainline environmental organizations structure themselves to survive, and the need to use and create grassroots structures more effectively.

mafr September 19th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

There have been some analysis of Republican candidates that I have read. I appears that it is essential, if a person wishes to run for office in the USA for that party,

to be a climate change denier.

since the democrats don’t seem to want to do any more than the republicans, do you think carbon pricing law will be passed in the USA?


and is the rest of the world moving on without the USA?

and what will be the effect of that on the North American economy.

Jane Hamsher September 19th, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Thanks so much for being here today Doug, and thanks for hosting Robert.

You write about a conundrum we all face. The CBD does amazing work, but because they channel their resources into activism, they don’t have the same ability to do self-promotion that the Sierra Club does. So the Sierra Club winds up spending their money to promote their brand, which makes its name valuable to companies like Clorox that want to green wash, which gives the Sierra Club more money to promote its brand. While the CBD is filing FOIAs and lawsuits. It’s an endless cycle. CBD does the heavy lifting, and the Sierra Club gets its name in the press and hangs out with the political heavyweights.

The disconnect between the grassroots and the organizations who most clearly represent the interests they espouse is as you note problematic, and bridging that gap is always a challenge.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to masaccio @ 32

I would contend that legal strategies are actually quite democratic. It is a democratization of the regulatory apparatus. Litigation has been used by environmental groups as a form of law enforcement, appealing to the courts to compel a government agency to abide by and implement existing environmental laws when that agency has failed to do so. Key environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act were written to include citizen-lawsuit provisions specifically to enable the public to ensure that these laws would be implemented. Although both the national environmental organizations and the grassroots groups have used litigation to enforce biodiversity protection laws, the grassroots groups have applied it much more extensively in cases which the national organizations avoided as too politically controversial even though the legal claims were supported by scientific data. As Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity summarized in my interview with him, “The use of science in a very aggressive fashion as the basis for litigation— no matter what the political risk— is what made us different.” I agree with you that the Bush administration tried to gut the regulatory apparatus, but as I chronicle in my book, the grassroots groups are continuing to have a big impact through their vigorous use of environmental litigation. I think you will find many examples of successes in my book that will give you more of a basis for hope from this tactic.

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 31

Doug, I thought Jane’s point about bridging the gap between the grassroots and the nationals is a real important one to make right now — and you really drill down into that issue in your book. The U.S. Congress has been, at best, obstructionist when it comes to addressing climate change, promoting clean energy; at worst, it’s been a reliable ally of the fossil fuel industry. Obama has failed to make an aggressive push on comprehensive action on climate and energy policy. This has occurred amidst record-breaking temperatures and the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. What lessons can be drawn from the period of environmental struggle you cover in your book?

watertiger September 19th, 2010 at 3:18 pm
In response to masaccio @ 32

Come sit by me. How do we staunch the bleeding?

fuckno September 19th, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Passing legislation in and of itself is no more than lip service. Good legislation, if passed will be defunded and additionally not enforced by a corrupt regulatory regime without teeth.

That is the record.

watertiger September 19th, 2010 at 3:22 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 36

But we’re seeing science quite literally being dismissed by the very people who are supposed to be guarding it.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:22 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 35

Jane, thanks for your helpful comments. I think that many people assume that the national environmental organizations and the grassroots groups play complementary roles. But what stood out for me in the case studies I profile in my book is how often the national organization actually play a detrimental role– not only taking credit for the work of the grassroots, but also actively undermining the work of the those groups when the national organizations engage in political deal-making in which they try to trade away powerful legal tools being used effectively by the grassroots.

Kirk Murphy September 19th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Douglas and Michael, welcome to the Lake! Thanks to you both for your work and for taking the time to be here today – and thanks to Bev for making these Salons happen.

Douglas, I confess I haven’t read your book, though now that I know of it I certainly shall be.

I was active with EarthFirst! for around a decade starting in the mid 90′s, and also had the opportunity to see the great folks at CBD and their work.

Conversely, I also had the chance to see Big Green and their regional acolytes sacrifice the hard won injunction preserving old growth forest from the logging whichhas now decimated spotted owl populations: the Federal judge reportedly said he would never understand the compromisers’ unilateral surrender until his dying day.

EarthFirst! (and other local direct action groups like the campaign Mike Roselle, locals, and activists are waging agianst Massey in West Virginia) sure look to me like one of the three primary biota in the ecology of successful eco-defense. Like the other two major payers – litigation and public sentiment – the non-violent direct action groups are often necessary but not sufficient components for successful protection.

Yet in the Warner Creek campaign and the Headwaters/Forest Mattole campaigns, sustained EarthFirst! non-violent direct action protected habitat long enough for formal protection (Warner) and raised operational costs/public opinion sufficiently to force political solutions. (Headwaters/Mattole).

We didn’t get everything we wnated with the Headwaters agreement (DiFi sabotaged the possibility), yet EF’s civil disobedience and direct action achieved much of what EF set out to attain.

Virtually none of the EF’ers I’ve known in either campaign thought their actions along wold bring about sustained forest protection – they, too saw the direct action as neccesaary and complementary to the other two efforts.


“Central to Earth First!’s values was the concept of biocentrism, which, as Bevington describes, is “the belief that all species of life have inherent worth and an intrinsic right to exist.” This cut dramatically against the view of nature held by, say, logging companies, which sought to put a price matrix over all aspects of the natural world. Where Earth First!ers saw a bounty of life, which should remain uncommodified by the market and its corporate legions, the companies saw profit.

While, the group’s ecological philosophy signaled an important evolution in the environmental movement’s conception of nature (that the environment was not only a bucolic setting to enjoy for leisure but a vast and interconnected system to which humans are inextricably linked), its tactics had significant drawbacks. They often slowed the process of forest destruction and brought heaps of media attention to the cause, but failed to bring a halt to forest destruction and often alienated allies.”

The conclusion to this statement seems to set up a false comparison or benchmark. EF! didn’t expect their efforts in isolation would halt forest destruction – why would others hold them to that standard inmeasuring their effect?

This makes no more sense to me than would criticizing the kidney transplant surgeons I once worked with for failing to reverse diabetes that had caused the kidney failure in the first place. Very important metric, but one that doesn’t measure the capacities of the original endeavor.

masaccio September 19th, 2010 at 3:31 pm
In response to watertiger @ 38

I don’t have a clue. It would help if there were a fierce advocate in the bully pulpit, or somewhere near it, to explain the kinds of things Doug is suggesting, and why they are good for all of us and our democracy.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

The pattern that I described in my answer to Jane (43) unfortunately continues to play out in the realm of climate legislation. There the Center for Biological Diversity has been at the forefront of developing innovative litigation strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These are things that can be done here and now and don’t require passing problematic cap-and-trade legislation. Indeed, one of the most powerful laws on this front is the Clean Air Act. But the national environmental organizations have been going along with legislation that would gut the Clean Air Act’s ability to address global warming. Again this is an example of the short-sighted political deal-making that comes with their insider strategy. As Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity observed, “The nationals are so obsessed with getting a carbon trading bill passed—so as to be able to claim success that they’ve passed climate legislation— that they will support any bill that is seen as politically feasible, even if it is worse than what we have now, even if it guts powerful provisions of the Clean Air Act that we can currently use to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and even if it sets us no further down the path to actually dealing with the climate crisis.”

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Dr. Murphy,

Since you quoted my synopsis of Doug’s book, I’ll chime in on your point about holding EF! to unfair benchmarks.

You’re absolutely right. I think — as Doug discusses in his book — the big national groups often prized compromise over principle. EF! made the point “No compromise in defense of mother earth”. When big enviro groups “win” we’re often left much worse than before legislation was passed. Take Waxman-Markey’s massive give aways to the fossil fuel industry all in exchange for cap-and-trade. At the end of the day, the bill sets up a massive speculative market for carbon, continues to prioritize fossil fuel generation, and included some incentives for renewables. Many groups declared victory. Hardly a victory in my opinion.

On the other hand, groups like EF! received a lot of flack for their un-willingess to compromise. Yet as Doug points out in his book prior to EF! efforts in Northern California, the big nationals weren’t seeking to block logging on private lands. Without EF! the nationals would have left Pacific Lumber/Maxxam to continue their environmentally destructive practices.

Based on that metrics, EF! was on the forefront of the struggle.

masaccio September 19th, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Are you suggesting that we work to redirect grassroots giving from the nationals to local groups and the CBD?

Kirk Murphy September 19th, 2010 at 3:44 pm

One of the sadder examples I’ve seen of the insiders’ jones for some deal – *any* deal – on climate came when Joseph Romn was here at FDL some months back.

Prior to Obama taking office, Romm wrote presuasively and unequivocally that cap and trade will fail to avert global climate change.

Obama’s close political ally Podesta effectively runs Center For American Progress: Romm and Climate Progress are part of that shop.

By the time he showed up here some months ago, Romm was touting the merits of – guess what – Cap’n Trade.

And despite repeated invitations, he couldn’t cite one single aspect of climate science that had changed to now make Cap’n Trade and Obama’s other half-measures effective. ANd Romm also poohed-poohed the idea tha giving up the EPA’s extant Clean Air Act power was any sort of loss.

A totally pathetic example of DC-based enviro careerists sucking up to power.

Any ideas on the most powerful ways to stop this sort of institutionalized perversion of once honest eco-advoates (and how to disable the Big Green collaborators they serve?).

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Thanks for your interest in my book. I think you will enjoy it. There is a full chapter about the Headwaters Forest campaign, including a detailed account of the way that Feinstein, the Sierra Club leadership, and others undermined the grassroots groups during that campaign. And the Warner Creek blockage is discussed in chapter 4. I agree with you that direct action has played an important role in those campaigns and others. But I think that many Earth First! activists realized that there were significant limitations to what direct action could accomplish on its own. That’s why many of them went on to play crucial roles in the grassroots biodiversity groups. Ultimately, I think you will see that my book does not disparage Earth First!, but instead shows its broader impact in terms of the new groups it inspired.

Kirk Murphy September 19th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Robert, I’m glad you chimed in and I appreciate your observations – I apologize for not addressing my question to both of you.

(and I apologize I hadn’t changed my handle to my non-work name – thought I had, but goofed up. Please do simply call me Kirk!)

Kirk Murphy September 19th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Thanks, Doug – and FWIW, nothing I’ve read here today suggests your book (or any of Robert’s work) will disparage EarthFirst!
On the contrary – now I want to catch up with what both of your have written.

Jane Hamsher September 19th, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 41

I’ve never quite understood what the whole “inside game” theory is. It never works, the people they’re cutting deals with always screw them, and they wind up being validators within their own communities for really hideous pieces of legislation because they’ve invested so much of their own credibility in them.

You can be an “inside presence,” representing your members and channeling their actions, as long as you always know where your loyalties lie. Outside of the ACLU I’ve never seen an organization pull that off.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:52 pm
In response to masaccio @ 46

When it comes to contributing to environmental activism, I think that we can have the biggest bang for our bucks when we channel resources to support BOLD grassroots groups. In response, folks often ask me which groups I recommend suporting. I would encourage you to look at the groups supported by Fund for Wild Nature. I have recently joined the board of the Fund because I think it plays a valuable role in connecting individal donors with the small bold groups that are doing effective work to protect biodiversity. Their website is http://www.fundwildnature.org/

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 3:53 pm
In response to kirk murphy @ 47

It astounded me how little objective analysis there was of cap-and-trade during the House debate of Waxman-Markey. Nevertheless a lot of groups got on board as if the only way to put a price on carbon was a market-based mechanism that 1) was proposed by right-wing free marketers and 2) has been brought windfall profits to the biggest polluters in Europe, site of the world’s largest carbon market, and HAS NOT led to pro-active efforts by industry to reduce emissions. So why are we supposed to support cap and trade?

I think a way to put a stop to this is to hold green groups accountable to their support for false solutions. Groups that support cap-and-trade need to hear from members and non-members. Groups that are willing to support stripping EPA of its authority to regulate carbon need to be denounced. The Clean Air Act is perhaps the single most valuable tool (only behind a shrinking economy) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

BevW September 19th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Doug, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the day discussing your new book and Environmentalism.

Rob, Thank you very much for Hosting this Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Doug’s website
Rob’s website

Thanks all,
Have a great week.

Kirk Murphy September 19th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Robert (re your 47), my favorite stat re the EU’s carbon-trading scheme is the year the total Euro value of payments for carbon fraud exceeded the entire Common Agricutural Program subsidies. Staggering.

Doug Bevington September 19th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to BevW @ 54

Thank you all.

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 4:00 pm
In response to kirk murphy @ 55

one could go on and on about the problems with cap and trade. and few enviro groups did during the debate.

Robert Eshelman September 19th, 2010 at 4:00 pm
In response to BevW @ 54

Thanks Bev. Thanks Doug. Thanks for the great questions and comments everyone.

Buy Doug’s book!

RevBev September 19th, 2010 at 4:01 pm
In response to kirk murphy @ 55

And why do they have such a hard time merely explaining Cap’n Trade? It’s been out there forever and still poorly understood…or maybe that’s on purpose.

Kirk Murphy September 19th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Thank you Robert and Doug for your work and your time today – you learned me, and I’m lookig forward to learning more from both of your work. Bev, thanks for maki’ the learning possible!

spocko September 19th, 2010 at 4:04 pm
In response to Doug Bevington @ 52

As Jane says, this disconnect between grassroots works and insider groups is frustrating.

How the media treat the grassroot groups also can end up marginalizing their work. BOLD grassroots groups often get tut tutted by the insider groups who are talking in the media.

Recently I’ve been trying to promote some rather disturbing information about the problems with testing protocols for gulf seafood
. The people who have the data and should be out pushing it hard in the media don’t seem to be pushing it aggressively enough in the media.

I’ve tried to help the groups with the science but I think they are afraid of being seen as sensationalist. It’s hard when you want to help, you know how, but they don’t want to be helped.

freeman September 19th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Look forward to reading your book Doug and thankx for your time and the links provided . Keep up the good work !

Sorry for the OT’s , I had the mistaken impression that the thread had ended when Jane arrived ..

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