26 July 2005

"The Environment" is Losing Ground

I've been thinking about the following from The Millennium Development Goals and Conservation, a publication from the International Institute for the Environment and Development:

"The global community no longer has the luxury of viewing biodiversity loss as a problem of the future. Like sustainable development, the call to conserve the world's biodiversity must be transformed from a theoretical challenge to a slogan that rouses people from their armchairs and gets them marching in the streets! Even as we say this, however, 'the environment' has lost ground in development agencies to other newer topics. We could do with the creativity of an advertising agency to craft new terms to inspire the popular imagination with the scale of the challenge we face."

"The environment" is losing ground to other, seemingly more pressing concerns, such as poverty alleviation, terrorism, and human health and well-being. Yet, those of us who work in the environmental field or conservation know that biodiversity is inextricably linked to at least two of these concerns. Some could argue that it is related to all three, if you take into account the interconnectedness of poverty, oppression, and lack of access with the fostering of new terrorists.

Why, then, have we been so inarticulate when it comes to making the case for the connections between biodiversity and human well-being? What aspects of our rhetoric get in the way of establishing the link between biodiversity loss and poverty? And what can we do about it?

An advertising agency might help, but it would cost us. Think tanks and forums might also lend a hand. But are we really incapable of making these arguments ourselves in a strong, clear statement? Do we not have the intellectual capacity to make our case in terms that a reader of USA Today can understand and be compelled to action?

If this is so, then what we have is a real failure of imagination on the part of the environmental movement. And perhaps environmentalism is dead. I chose not to believe this is true and hope to do some thinking about this in coming posts to this blog. We must not let this critical issue be put aside in favor of "other newer topics," with development agencies or the public at large. Neither should we cede it to an advertising firm. We need some serious reflection here. And it is one of the challenges that I'd hoped to address in creating this blog. I welcome the input and thoughts of any readers out there.

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