Greens Are Blue, Again

by Steven F. Hayward

Juliet Eilprin offers up this thumbsucker in the Washington Post about how environmentalists are “are engaged in their most profound bout of soul-searching in more than a decade.” Doesn’t look like they are searching very far, for the answers they have come up with sound drearily familiar. But you can’t blame Eilprin for the wispy character of this story: She has to go with the material she’s got.

It seems environmentalists, frustrated that they weren’t able to get cap-and-trade over the finish line with the largest liberal majority in Congress in a generation, think they need to get back to the “grassroots,” and “connect with the people.” I’m not making this up. Eilprin quotes Fred Krupp, longtime CEO of the Environmental Defense Fund: “Certainly I think we have figured out we need to find a way to really listen harder and connect with people all over America, especially in rural America. I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job of that.”

This would be laughable if it weren’t so risible. The Environmental Defense Fund spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million on a climate-change ad campaign with the Ad Council. Do they think they’ll do better if they double down and spend $600 million this time? In total, the climate campaign has probably spent well north of a billion dollars, yet Bill McKibben of moans that “since we’re never going to compete with Exxon in money, we better find another currency, and to me bodies, spirit, creativity are probably our best bet.”

As I wrote recently in, of all places, Mother Jones,

The campaign to adopt carbon constraints has to be judged the least successful marketing effort since New Coke or the Edsel. This ought to provoke the most searching reflections within the environmental community, but so far it seems most environmentalists are stuck in the “denial” and “bargaining” phases of their grief over the death of cap-and-trade, grasping desperately to the hope that their Edsel of a policy can be revived after the next election. If the environmental establishment sticks with this vain hope, by “turning up the volume,” they will only marginalize themselves further. (The volume has been turned up to 11 for years, hasn’t it?)

So now the greens want to emphasize getting back to the “grassroots,” which, the story explains, means principally lobbying against new power plants before state public-utility commissions. Of course, the last time EDF embarked on a “grassroots” program, they got caught “astroturfing” — they paid people to phone in to elected officials.

(By the way, can EDF please settle on what it wants to be called? For a while, it dropped the “F,” and went by just “ED.” But as its entry explains, the group went “back to its original name, EDF, when the new acronym ED became synonymous with a medical condition.”)

All of the kvetching about “not getting our message out” and being outgunned by the relatively tiny climate-skeptic community is a museum-quality example of Churchill’s definition of a fanatic as someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject. Of course, one thing the failure of the climate campaign means is full employment for the climate campaigners, which is mighty nice for people such as EDF’s Krupp (2009 compensation: $496,000). One disgruntled liberal philanthropist recently confided to me that if the leaders of the big green groups were subject to any reasonable standard of accountability, they’d all be fired.

Someday, perhaps decades from now, smart environmentalists are going to look back on climate change, and especially the monomania for suppression of fossil-fuel energy, as the issue that ate their movement alive. A few people now are starting to get it. Eilprin’s story notes one of them, Armond Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force, who told the Post: “The tragedy is that they spent the last ten years on this and not anything else.” CATF, the story continues, “has pursued an array of alternative strategies aimed at curbing climate change and air pollution.” But that’s all we hear about them, before going back to the grand plans of the Sierra Club and others to deploy an army of grassroots activists.