It saddens me to see this, but sometimes clarity is unpleasant. Eventually, spring will arrive again. The invisible hand moves.
The theme, “the death of environmentalism,” had already been explored in print by Werbach’s colleagues, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. But this speech transcended their intellectual analysis of the environmental and progressive movements. Rather, it was a rawer, more emotional telling, taking the audience through the four “seasons” of environmentalism: Spring (1952-1964) — from the ascendancy of David Brower and Rachel Carson, to the rebirth of conservatism following Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential election debacle.
Summer (1964-1978) — through the first Earth Day and the passage of the great environmental acts protecting air, water, and endangered species.
Fall (1978-1990) — the rise of conservatism and the religious right, during which “that we began to lose the war of ideas.”
Winter (1990-2004) — environmentalists’ failure to capture public attention on major problems — for example, that “After a decade of framing global warming as a problem of pollution and future disasters, we are in a weaker place than we were when we started.”
It was a dark and deadly serious speech, punctuated by few light moments. “With fond memories, a heavy heart, and a desire for progress, I say to you tonight that Environmentalism is dead,” he proclaimed, adding
“Environmentalism is dead in no small part because it could never match the right’s power to narrate a compelling vision of America’s future. The argument I will make tonight is that every time environmentalists step outside the confines of the environmental discourse to articulate a more expansive, more inclusive and more compelling vision for the future, they cease being environmentalists and start becoming American progressives.”