Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

Article excerpt

Break through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the politics of possibility. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007, 344 Pages.

The Landscape of Reform: Civic Pragmatism and Environmental Thought in America, Ben A. Minteer, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, 264 Pages.

In 2004, the essay "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World," rocked the environmental community. Its authors, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, dared to doubt that the recent efforts of major environmental organizations were the best way to advance environmental protection, thereby sparking a heated international debate. Break Through is its sequel. And while sequels are rarely more notable than the original hit, in this case, the sequel works.

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Nordhaus and Shellenberger continue their argument against "small-bore campaigns"--efforts that seek incremental legislative and regulatory improvements. More specifically, they rail against isolating environmental issues from other important political concerns, such as economic security and social fairness. Environmental progress today, according to this pair of environmental strategists, requires broad political support, as well as large-scale economic and political transformation.

Organizations that encourage citizens to send postcards to political leaders who are hostile to environmental protection are fruitless efforts according to Nord-haus and Shellenberger. Neo-conservatives resist any new environmental initiatives. Such politics can only be reversed at the ballot box or through the mobilization of broad-based socio-political movements, not in capitol corridors. thick with ambitious legislators and predatory lobbyists.

The politics of fundamental change prescribed by the authors does not necessarily come from the far left. What is envisioned is a movement that combines environmental protection with social and economic needs. This new movement's message would not be about tomorrow's environmental horrors, and it would not be sold as frugality and cutting back. It would be about harnessing American ingenuity. …