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Attack Polluters, Not Environmental Leaders
Published on Wednesday, January 11, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Attack Polluters, Not Environmental Leaders
by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
 

Public Relations strategist Michael Shellenberger of El Cerrito and pollster Ted Nordhaus of Oakland have quite literally made their careers out of misguided attacks on environmentalists, beginning with their 2004 essay, "The Death of Environmentalism." Last month, they continued that tradition with a highly personal and dishonest attack on me for opposing Cape Wind -- a massive offshore wind farm that -- as a result of careless siting -- will ruin the livelihoods of hundreds of Cape Cod's treasured commercial fishing families by evicting them from their primary fishing grounds. That boondoggle, which requires a quarter billion dollars in government subsidies and effectively privatizes 24 square miles of public trust lands used annually by 3 million boaters and tourists, will cause a host of other injuries, including serious ecological damage and a billion dollars in economic loss to surrounding communities and will pose a dangerous navigational hazard to air and marine traffic. All of these ills could be avoided simply by moving the turbines to one of many suitable alternative sites -- only a few miles distance.

While I welcome honest debate, Shellenberger's and Nordhaus' attacks have been exactly the dishonest vitriol that they elsewhere condemn. Their statement that I and my uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., are the authors of a bill forbidding wind farms near navigational channels is pure fabrication. I would oppose such legislation.

The anger that prompted their reckless inventions was apparently fired by my published editorials challenging Shellenberger's and Nordhaus' 2004 article blaming America's continuing environmental problems on the environmental community's ossified leadership, tired strategies, disunity among environmental groups and, ironically, the use of dishonest hyperbole.

But these pundits miss the point. Far from dead, the environmental movement is vibrant, financially robust, with sound strategies, dynamic leadership and exploding memberships. The National Resource Defense Council is typical; it has nearly doubled in size since 2000, with 300,000 new members and 500,000 more e-activists.

And the diversity of the environmental movement, rather than an impediment, is an emblem of its health. The civil-rights movement could not have succeeded without leaders as diverse as Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who seldom coordinated efforts as they marched toward a common goal.

The environmental movement's failure to achieve its larger goals, such as pressing government to sign a global warming treaty, is more aptly blamed on the breathtaking financial and political power of polluting industries.

Polluters spend hundreds of millions every election cycle on lobbying and campaign contributions to control the political process, and billions more on phony think tanks and deceptive advertising to hoodwink the public and manipulate the national debate. Industry outspends environmental groups 1,000 to 1 on political campaigning and advertising. Relatively impoverished public-interest groups have traditionally relied on the political intensity they can generate by public participation. Their success is dependent on an independent, vigorous press willing to fearlessly confront power and inform the public.

But corporate money has also corrupted and undermined the American media. Because more profits flow from entertaining than informing, television air time devoted to environmental stories has dwindled by 2002 to less than 4 percent of network news minutes, according to the Tyndall Report. Americans know more about Brad and Angelina than global warming. That's not the fault of environmentalists.

While the savants carp, the hardworking leadership of groups like the Sierra Club, NRDC, Greenpeace, PIRG and Environmental Defense battle these overwhelming odds by organizing grassroots, suing polluters, pushing legislation and reaching out to new constituencies. Many of us in the environmental movement are working with other progressive groups to enact media and campaign-finance reform to save our democracy, which is the only hope for a clean environment. Most environmental leaders are deeply involved in coordinating campaigns on issues of common interest and bypassing the corporate media by developing new ways to communicate with the American public. Our greatest challenge is to broaden our constituencies, to include nontraditional supporters in business, labor, hook-and-bullet groups, commercial fishermen and racial minorities. Knee-jerk support for a badly planned wind farm that unnecessarily alienates our natural allies, including commercial fishermen, marina owners and boaters does not advance these objectives. Likewise, backbiting and recriminations against fellow environmentalists does not bring in new members, win lawsuits, pass bills or reduce pollution.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council and president of Waterkeeper Alliance.

© 2006 San Francisco Chronicle

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