Monday, November 15, 2004

The Death of Environmentalism

The most important text on environmental issues in 2004 is probably Michael Schellenberger and Ted Norhaus's The Death of Environmentalism, which I only got round to reading thanks from a reminder last week from Lisa Jordan at the Ford Foundation. I have passed it on to someone providing strategic advice to a major US environmental organisation: she hadn't seen it either so this was useful.

Schellenberger and Norhaus argues the US environmental movement has made the most catastrophic strategic errors, and say this arises from profound misconceptions of the nature of the challenges and the concepts they use.

The critique articulates well profound questions I have only more or less realised but not properly thought through. It is specific to the US/North America, but has wider application.

A lot to take on board while developing the debate on the politics of climate change, planned for the British Council and openDemocracy in spring 2005.

A small point in their text that is important but tangential is their assessment of the state of the US automobile industry (which they argue it's crucial to understand if you're to develop a politics that works). I guess this leapt out - along with other things - because I'd just read John Plender's article (see previous post Questioning US capitalist credentials). Schellenberger and Norhaus quote Danny Hakim of the New York Times:

General Motors covers the health care costs of 1.1 million Americans, or close to half a percent of the total population. For G.M., which earned $1.2 billion [in profits] last year, annual health spending has risen to $4.8bn from $3bn since 1996...Today, with global competition and the US health care system putting the burden largely on employers, retiree medical costs are one reason Toyota's $10.2bn profit in its most recent fiscal year was more than double the combined profit of the Big Three [US car manufacturers].

Because Japan has national health care, its auto companies aren't stuck with the bill for its retirees.

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