By Peter Montague, from Rachel's Democracy and Health News #854
For Earthday, the New York Times reminded us on April 23 (Section 4,pg. 14) of something uncomfortable but important: the general public no longer has "the environment" high on its list of worries or concerns.
Of course, the Times had done its part to lull everyone to sleep about such things. For example, the Times reported April 23 that "water pollution and toxic waste" are "both now largely controlled." Oh? And what of the 4.24 billion pounds of 650 different toxic chemicals released into the U.S. environment during 2004?
In that same story, the Times reported the results of two nationwide telephone opinion surveys, one by CBS News and one by Gallup. The results could help us all to realize how isolated and out of touch with the mainstream many of us [in the environmental movement] have become.
Here are the general public's ranking of "most important problems facing the United States:
War in Iraq -- 27%
Economy and jobs -- 13%
Immigration -- 7%
Terrorism -- 6%
Health care -- 5%
President Bush -- 4%
Gas/heating oil crisis -- 4%
Poverty & homelessness -- 4%
Education -- 3%
Moral and family values -- 2%
Environment -- 2%
Military & defense -- 2%
Budget deficit/national debt -- 2%
These numbers add up to only 82% and the Times did not explain the missing 18%. At first glance, the numbers may make "environment" look like a loser as a basis for building a social movement. But look again. If environmentalists were to form an alliance with people concerned about jobs (13%) and health (5%) -- that would boost the troops to 20% of the public -- more than enough to pull off a full-scale revolution (non-violent, of course). If you add to that the people whose top priority is the energy crisis (4%) and poverty (4%) you've got 28% of the public in your camp -- essentially 1/3 of everyone.That's about a hundred million people.
So environmentalism isn't dead. It's just lonely and needs more friends. Let hope this can become a wake-up call to us all. It's time to climb out of our bunkers, rub our eyes and look around, then set off to find likely friends and allies, send out ambassadors from our group (whatever group we're in) to other issue-groups, then forge ways to work together and support each other. Is there any other way to build a movement?
Orwell's Grave believes that the "environmental movement" can only overcome the obstacles it faces through alliances with others. Standing alone as a chorus of disparate voices in the wilderness, its calls to action, its warnings of dire consequences (many of which I believe are based on scientific fact) are falling on deaf ears. Perhaps the only way the 2% figure will begin to rise is as Americans begin, literally, to feel the heat.