by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Gossip, pseudo porn, terror and distorted reporting have turned Americans into the best-entertained and some of the least-informed people in the world.
Hotly debated articles in national journals including The New York Times have recently proclaimed the "death of environmentalism" and blamed the movement's lack of success on ossified leadership, tired strategies and, above all, the tendency of environmentalists to exaggerate crisis.
Suggesting that environmentalists have hobbled their movement by exaggerating is like blaming racial prejudice on the stridency of some civil rights activists. Environmentalism is a broad social movement encompassing millions of Americans and thousands of organizations.
No doubt, some use hyperbole. But the leaders and professionals with whom I work, at groups like Waterkeeper Alliance, National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are more often conservative to a fault in their scientific and economic pronouncements.
And far from dead, the movement is vibrant, financially robust, with sound strategies and exploding memberships. The NRDC, for example, has nearly doubled in size since 2000, with 300,000 new members and 500,000 more e-activists.
The movement's failure to achieve its larger goals – like pressing the government to sign a global warming treaty to restrict mercury emissions or to protect the Arctic Refuge – is more aptly blamed on the financial and political power of polluting industries and the negligence of the American media. Polluters spend hundreds of millions every election cycle on lobbying and campaign contributions to control the political process, and millions more on phony think tanks and deceptive advertising to hoodwink the public and manipulate the national debate. Environmental groups lack the financial resources to compete in those vital arenas.
Traditionally, public interest movements have relied instead upon the political intensity they can generate by public participation. This success is highly dependent on an independent, vigorous and responsible press willing to speak truth to power. Therein lies the problem.
America's negligent and indolent media seldom covers environmental issues and rarely intelligently. Last autumn, I took part in a 20-state tour touting my book on George W. Bush's miserable environmental record, and invariably heard the same refrain from Republican and Democratic audiences: "Why haven't I heard any of this before? Why aren't the environmentalists getting the word out?" But there is no lack of effort on our part to inform the public. We simply often hit a stone wall: the media.
Gossip, pseudo porn, terror and distorted reporting have turned Americans into the best-entertained and some of the least-informed people in the world. Most Americans know more about Scott Peterson than they do about the mercury and asthma that are making them sick.
According to the Tyndall Report, which analyzes television content, of the 15,000 minutes of network news that aired in 2002, only 4 percent was devoted to the environment, and many of those minutes were consumed by human-interest stories – whales trapped in sea ice or a tiger that escaped from a zoo.