They say that it’s always darkest just before the dawn. In Monday’s edition of Maclean’s (a Canadian magazine), long time environmental leader David Suzuki, says that environmental NGO community has failed because of their inability in convincing people that the problems the earth faces are in need of urgent change. Caution: Rant ahead…
“We fundamentally failed to use those battles to get that awareness, to shift the paradigm. And that’s been the failure of environmentalism.” David Suzuki
Let’s be clear,I have been a fan of David’s for a long time, but to hear that Suzuki is claiming that the environmental movement has ‘failed’ (somewhat old news since the original blog post this headline comes from is over a year old), is like hearing Martin Luther King denounce the freedom movement in the 60s for not achieving more. (Which never happened). Or Gandhi saying nonviolence is a failed strategy. It feels like the old adage of “blaming the victim” because they haven’t managed to convince the sexist or racist system that they as victim, are not to blame.
David has been around for decades. He has done more to educate people on environmental issues than I will do in a lifetime. And now he blames the NGO community, his own community to be clear, and of which he has prospered significantly over the last few decades? Does that mean his own NGO of which he asks people to donate to, is also to blame? Would I continue to donate to his foundation after him claiming that environmental NGOs are the problem?
This article has made me look at his foundations financials. In looking at his NGO’s financial statement for 2012, I see that they raised almost $9M Canadian and spent approx. $2.4 M on fundraising and administrative costs. That means that only 74% of his raised funds went to actually doing the work he proposes. There is no measurements of how many people they affected or what kind of impacts they had. They simply talk about broad brush efforts. What am I supposed to think about that, when the standard in the US, set by independent watchdogs like Charity Navigator are expecting much much higher percentages of funds to be used on the goals of the cause rather than the admin and fundraising? I know plenty of environmental groups that would love to be able to spend 2.4 million or more on the issues in their backyard. I belong to a few of them. We get no where near this kind of money.
To be clear, we all drive too much, fly to much, and we are more than willing to ignore the pleas of the environmental community because it’s too damn hard to actually get out from behind our Facebook pages, where we post all these wonderful pledges to causes, and actually staff the offices that work for change. It’s not ‘fun’ though Lord knows, but most of the older generation in the States had plenty of fun in the protest movement of the 60s, screwing and doping through that, when their lives were actually in risk of being shipped to Viet Nam. And aren’t our lives at risk? Not for most.
So now it’s just, “what me worry?” Unless you live on the Jersey Shore, Louisiana, or in the Philippines, or any of the other hundreds of places that have actually borne the brunt of our, yes our, ways. It’s the burning of fossil fuel that is causing this, and you, Canada, and us in the USA are the main culprits. Want to change the equation? Stop electing anti-environmental leaders. Now. Stop electing Stephen Harper and his crony’s and the likes of Ford in Toronto, Canada. Why is the outcome of that somehow the fault of the NGO community?
A program like the launch of the space program is needed, but no one in government is able to lead. And the environmental movement is not one monolithic thing. There is no “president” of the environment. It’s a decentralized mess, thankfully. It makes it harder to co-opt.
So who’s going to do something about changing the equation? No one. Canadian voters turn out in record *low* numbers. Why is that? Maybe David should be challenging the voters, the readers, the people who need to vote our way out of this, rather than the tiny minority trying to do something on a daily basis. I know lots of Canadians. Most of them pay lip service to change, (as do many of my fellow Americans), few of them seem to actually be doing anything about it. It’s very “impolite” to bring it up in any serious way in conversation up there. Especially if you are American. Canada has been taken over by the oil industry, much like a 3rd world country. I talk to the 30 somethings I know up there and many of them are unaware that environmental laws have been not just weakened, but eliminated. David can feel like he is losing ground, the movement is, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to walk away from it. It’s time to double down. More people know about the problems of environmental issues than ever before. More people are knowledgeable that they would change, if they are given a chance to and some leadership in doing so. There was a belief that Obama was that leader, he isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that we can give up. He has accomplished some good. But he demands that the people lead and he will follow. So it means a need to work locally. More than ever.
Things are getting done by the grass roots people working in their communities, not nationally.Who’s doing something? Well there are hundreds of local groups in the Puget Sound area, including Tribes, (known as First Nations in Canada), that are actually getting stuff done on the ground. The NW Indian Fisheries Commission seems to be actually recovering streams and salmon runs. Are they succeeding? In some cases. These groups are spending decades making minor but significant change. Want to donate to real change? Look at the list of NGO’s on the left side of this web page!
What will change things? A “Sputnik” like event to wake everyone up to the risk? What will it take? NYC or Manila or Sydney Aus to be wiped out in an environmental disaster brought on by the once in a hundred years storm that now happens every year? The sad reality is, yes, that’s likely to be what it takes.
Without national leaders, like Suzuki, pressing in high places, the movement never gets critical mass. The power players, like Fox News, in the US, and others, just savage the movement and no one answers their criticism.
If David needs some propping up, some way to feel like we are and can make headway, then we welcome him to get out and go see what is happening. It sounds as if he needs a break. I’ll be glad to host him any old time. Maybe it’s just time for him to stand back and appreciate all the hard work he’s done in his lifetime. In the meantime, it’s time for the rest of us to get back to work.
The Maclean’s Article
David’s 2012 “dark blog” post on the failures of the environmental movement.