In December 2006, protestors claming to represent the interests of the environment established residence in a grove of mature oak trees adjacent to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. Their objective: to prevent the
On the surface, the action of the protestors could seem like a bold, principled action to protect an important terrestrial ecosystem. Indeed, the felling of a mature oak grove is not an act to be celebrated. However, due to unintended consequences of the protestors’ actions, they are greatly damaging the cause of environmental protection, and producing a net loss to the environment.
In my previous post, I examined how the tree-sitters are hindering the advance of sustainability by alienating potential allies to our cause. Today, let’s examine how, as 21st –century environmentalists, we must look beyond protest to achieve our goals.
Reason 4: Protest Over Progress – We Can Do Better
What is the purpose of protest? To call attention to an injustice, a cause, or a movement that may have been overlooked or underestimated. To highlight a problem, to show one’s support, or simply to vent frustration as a last resort. To accomplish these ends, environmental-related protest may seem reasonable and justifiable. However, if we consider that the contemporary history of environment-related protest dates back more than forty years, we find that protest has become an outdated method to address current environmental issues. Let’s consider the following points to understand why:
- Protest Is a Tool of the Disadvantaged, typically employed by groups or individuals without sufficient means to effect change by other methods. Children who feel mistreated by bullies protest to the bully, their parents, and their teachers, since they are unable to self-reliantly protect themselves. Minorities of many kinds, in many locations protest treatment at the hands of ruling majorities, since they are unable to obtain what they perceive as fair treatment due to insufficient population or resources. Special-interest groups protest in the hope that the public will hear them and consider their views.
Who does not protest? Major corporations, presidents, majority legislators, and powerful, wealthy, and influential people of all kinds. Why? Because the powerful, wealthy, and influential can obtain their ends by more effective, efficient means.
Environmentalists were once a special interest group, but no longer need be. Ecological capital was once abundant, but is being exhausted at ever greater rates, and with ever greater consequences. Sustainability is now the dictum the entire world must heed, or risk collapse.
True greens now have the chance to become the majority, to gain unprecedented influence on the future direction of the world through traditional institutions and exercise of power. As natural resources become ever scarcer, and climate change disrupts even the most insular areas of developed-world society, we are finally gaining access to a mass audience to address these pivotal issues. We must seize this opportunity to guide the world in a sustainable direction.
- Protest is Only Step One in the process of environmental protection. Why? Because protest itself does not produce solutions. Protest can create awareness of a problem, which must then be harnessed into action in order to achieve tangible gains. Environmental protection requires action in the form of government and corporate policy-making, clean technological solutions, and education of everyday people.
Tree-sits, such as this one at Bear Mountain,BC, often fail in their ultimate end. Tree-sitters are removed, and forests razed, despite the best efforts of tree-sitters.
We protested long ago, and people paid attention. Now it is time we get to work. To most effectively achieve our ends, we must rise within the ranks of government and business, so that we influence and eventually become CEOs, governors, managers, senators, police chiefs, and presidents. We must become the boss of the chainsaw man, the oil man, and the policeman. We must drive change from inside and outside. Only then will we truly be successful.
- Protest is No Longer Enough. The difficulties of solving climate change, also called ‘global warming’, but more accurately referred to as ‘global climate disruption’, prove conclusively that protest is no longer enough for the environmental movement. You cannot effectively protest the rise of the earth’s average temperature. You cannot plug every exhaust pipe and every smokestack. You cannot tie yourself to a sea wall to effectively forestall rising sea levels.
What you can do is start convincing people to sell their McMansions and move into mixed-use developments, where they can walk to the grocery store and take the train to work. You can convince the sway segment to change policy so that we construct wind turbines and solar panels while knocking down smokestacks, and build pod car networks instead of wider roads. You can educate people on how protecting the environment is a quality of life issue, and a matter of survival.
- Protest Is Now a Waste of Resources. Global climate disruption and ever-worsening environmental degradation are real problems that demand real solutions. If, going forward, the efforts and resources of the environmental movement are spent on protest, this would be a terrible waste of our intelligence, courage, and resolve.
As true greens, we can devise and implement practical, economic solutions to the problems about which we care most. We have an opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat of the vehicle of progress as we confront the world’s environmental and human future. Throwing away the opportunity to drive the vehicle of progress in order to stand in its way is not only inefficient and pointless, but suicidal as well.
True greens must drive progress. We must drive the world to a better future, because we are the only ones with the necessary knowledge and will to guide it. If we stand in the way of progress, we will all perish in the ensuing fray. We must exchange protest for progress.