Environmental Movement Just Isn't Sexy Any More

Cape Times (South Africa), January 25, 2007 | Go to article overview

Environmental Movement Just Isn't Sexy Any More


BYLINE: Saliem Fakir

The environmental movement no longer has that sexy touch and feel that it commanded during its hey-day. The enthusiasm and passion with which it entered the fray of global politics after the first and second prominent global conferences - the Stockholm Conference in 1972 and the Rio Conference of 1992 - is missing.

It is bored with itself. It has nothing new to say. There are probably over 400 international agreements signed, and thousands of conferences which activist, government officials and corporate representatives attend each year - and what do they have to show for it all?

Conferences and workshops have become an end in themselves and air travel ironically is the fastest-growing contributor to climate change in the transport sector. Talking has replaced real work.

The environmental movement has an even more Sisyphian task ahead in

the wake of 9/11 as issues of security have displaced environmental issues and poverty as a key priorities for the global community.

But the environmental movement is to be blamed for this. Instead of taking stock, its campaigns are becoming even more banal and superfluous. The movement simply hasn't got its message home.

Perhaps the message is wrong, perhaps the messenger doesn't make friends that easily? Perhaps social consciousness in the age of TV, the mall and Hollywood is less about the ecology which Matt Ridley characterises as religion, than about the pleasures of perpetual entertainment that have a better chance of making the miseries of the world disappear for the individual.

Consumer spending, which is the biggest environmental threat, continued unabated in South Africa last year, and clocked a record R49 billion turnover over the Christmas period, leaving the governor of the Reserve Bank exasperated. Where is the environmental movement on this?

And, as we have seen with the environmental movement in South Africa, generally, there is lots of pointing to problems - and indeed there are many - but very few good or clever solutions. If, anything, the standard refrain is an abundance of negativism which is really a facade to hide the movement's inabilities, lack of vision and innovation.

The movement cannot extricate itself from this situation because it does not possess the power to steer the economy nor the political machinery, and as a result will always have to play at the margins.

It will always confine itself to things that are nice to do so long as they do not affect the workings of the free market. Already the movement has been captured by free market forces who use philanthropy to co-opt the movement. …

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