Environmental Groups Are Flirting With Extinction

  • Date: 09/03/14
  • Keith Kloor, Discover Magazine

Unless environmental groups do something to broaden their appeal, their days are numbered as a meaningful presence in American culture and politics.

This April 22, Earth Day turns 44. The green movement is not aging well. Like today’s U.S. Republican Party, it has a diversity problem and speaks primarily to a narrow, graying demographic slice of the United States.

In 2009, Francis Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said to the New York Times:

Our groups are not as diverse as we’d like, but every one of the major groups has diversity as a top priority.There’s great commitment to making the environmental movement representative of what the country is.

That’s debatable. Still, if such a commitment doesn’t pan out, environmentalists will surely become an endangered species. As Barry Yeoman wrote in a 2011 article for Audubon magazine:

For the environmental movement to survive, it must cultivate new leaders who mirror the demographics of a nation that’s now 36 percent minority.

In the Audubon piece, Beinecke says:

If we’re going to have a constituency 20 or 30 years from now, or even 10, it’s critical that we be more inclusive. If we fail to do that, the movement will erode–erode in numbers and erode in political weight.

This diminishing of political influence is already well underway, as Nicholas Lemann observed last year in the New Yorker, in large part because the big green groups operating inside the beltway have “concentrated on the inside game, at the expense of efforts at broad-based organizing.”

But even if Big Green did change its tactics and also add more black and brown faces in its ranks, its future would still look bleak.

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