Professional environmentalism

The second category has, to a large extent, evolved out of the first; as we have seen, the rise of an environmental movement in the 1970s created a vast range of opportunities for new kinds of professional to emerge within its ranks. And in many countries, as the movements fell on hard times in the period of "counterrevolution" of the 1980s, it was the professionals who kept the emerging ecological culture alive. In countries like Britain and the United States, where the neo-liberal backlash was particularly intense, many of the environmental protest activities were incorporated into what came to be referred to as mainstream environmental organizations. But at the same time sources of tension developed between those ever-more professional organizations and the local activist groups, who often felt that they knew more about their situation and their particular struggle than the campaigners, or fund-raisers, or experts, from the professional organizations.

In many European countries the professional organizations - especially newer ones like Greenpeace - tended to "take over" the mantle of the movement, both in terms of media attention as well as in regard to general public interest (Eyerman and Jamison 1989). But, even more importantly, Greenpeace and the WWF, as well as the national conservation societies, became the agenda-setters, the agents who formulated the strategies for the culture as a whole, and who took on the responsibility of representing the broader interest in the environment. Together with the green parties that started to win their way into local government and even into some national parliaments in the 1980s, professional organizations became the "stand-in" for the broader public as well as being the form of agency through which civil society was offered opportunities to participate in what came to be called "sustainable development." It is no accident that the term itself was originally formulated by the WWF in the World Conservation Strategy, produced together with the UN Environment Program and the International Union for Societies for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1956.

We should remember that many of these organizations predated the environmental movement of the 1960s and thus embody traditions and "residual" cultural formations that have been difficult for the organizations to transcend. As conservation societies and ornithological associations, as tourist organizations and rural preservation councils, as wildlife federations and wilderness clubs, these organizations became a part ofthe political cultures of most industrialized countries in the early twentieth century, and many of them extended their reach into the so-called developing countries in the immediate postwar era, when the former colonies began to win their independence. There are thus discursive frameworks and organizational experiences - a kind of traditional knowledge - that many of these organizations are able to build upon and mobilize in their contemporary activities. But it also becomes difficult for them to escape from the limits of their histories, to transcend their traditions.

Already in the 1960s these "first wave" organizations, dating back to the nineteenth century, came to be complemented and, in some places, challenged by new organizations that were reacting to the new kinds of pollution and urban environmental problems that had been identified in the public debate. As we have seen, NOAH in Denmark and the competing national federations of local groups in Sweden came into being at that time. Many of their founding members were young people who had been associated for a time with the older organizations, but who now found them too staid and "established." In North America Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were formed in the early 1970s for much the same reason, and they soon grew into international alliances as the UN Conference in 1972 helped to transform this new environmentalism into a global movement (McCormick 1991). In the 1970s a number of other national organizations and green parties emerged in many countries to coordinate the efforts of the predominantly local action groups that sprang up to oppose nuclear energy and other types of environmental destruction.

By the 1980s the new and the old organizations, those of the first and second waves, had become ever more professional, and, particularly when new forms of "grass-roots" protest started to emerge in the late 1980s, it became increasingly common to refer to the larger organizations as "mainstream" environmental movements that, in many respects, had come to have interests of their own. According to many observers they had become institutions, rather than movements, more like bureaucratic organizations than local activists (Eder 1996; van der Heiden 1997).

In the United States the mainstream organizations grew into a significant political force during the Reagan years as they made use of the "opportunity structures" of the American political culture to take active part in political lobbying and consultation in order to defend what had been achieved in the 1970s. But, as Mark Dowie has put it, by the mid-1990s they were "losing ground"; they had become too enmeshed in Washington politics, in litigation, and in compromise, and had lost a good deal of their active support at the "grass-roots" level (Dowie 1996: 63ff). In a similar vein Mario Diani and Paolo Donati have recently characterized environmental activism in Europe in terms of a transformation from participatory protest organizations to public interest lobbies (Diani and Donati 1999). Organizations like Legambiente in Italy and the WWF are more like business firms than social movements. In individual countries as well as at the inter-governmental, European Union level, and, perhaps most especially, with regard to international environmental negotiations, professional organizations have been given a range of new opportunities that have affected their orientations as well as their mode of operations (see Bichsel 1996; Jordan and Maloney 1997; Dekker etal. 1998; van der Heiden 1999).

Throughout the world the activist or social movement organizations that were so prominent in the 1970s, when environmentalism represented for many young people around the world an alternative way of life that was based on an ecological "world view" and oppositional forms of political action, have in the 1990s been displaced by a differentiated realm of so-called non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, with an international reach (Jamison 1996). Among other activities NGOs provide advice for business firms, government agencies, and public education programs, lobby for legislative and policy reforms, and take part in a wide variety of international development assistance projects (Runyan 1999; Kellow 2000). They also play key roles in many countries in local, regional, and national sustainable development activities, and, after its adoption in Brazil in 1992, in fulfilling and implementing the Agenda 21 that was agreed upon at the UN Conference on Environment and Development. They also participate, directly and indirectly, in negotiating environmental agreements on such issues as climate change, biodiversity, and technology transfer. Explicit activist organizations still exist but in many countries they are merely a small part of what has become an expansive "non-governmental" realm, or environmental movement sector (Rootes 1999). And quite often new activists are as much in opposition to old activists as they are to the established powers-that-be.

The large variety of non-governmental organizations that are part of what I term professional environmentalism makes it difficult to generalize, but there are nonetheless some characteristic features that many of these organizations seem to share, particularly in terms of their cognitive praxis. On the one hand they employ members of staff who do most of the work. They are, to be sure, open to volunteer and amateur involvement, but these organizations are formalized in the sense of having some people who are employed to make, or produce, environmental knowledge. On the other hand there is another defining characteristic: the priority that is given to expertise. All these organizations are based on a particular kind of expert competence be it legal, scientific, administrative, commercial, educational, or disruptive. They derive their organizational identity from a particular kind of cognitive input to environmental politics. They are the experts of activism. Like all producers of expert knowledge they are thus dependent on patrons to provide resources for collecting, analyzing, sifting, and presenting this expert knowledge.

Finally, these organizations are permanent, or at least established and with ambitions to be permanent, which means that organizational growth and survival are important factors in their choice of topics to work on and methods to apply. They need, in other words, to find a "niche" in the social ecology of knowledge production, neither duplicating what is done in other places nor competing with those who are able to do a particular task more effectively. This organizational dynamic, or niche-seeking, is perhaps the main factor behind the specialization and division of labor that exists among professional environmentalists. The problem, however, is that there is no organized coordination of activity, no collective setting of agenda, and, more seriously, no accountability to any particular user of the knowledge that is produced. These organizations are accountable only to their formal directors, either elected governing boards (as is the case with the large membership-based organizations) or self appointed leaders, who operate much like the directors of business firms.

The identity of these organizations is derived primarily from their representative character; they have defined themselves as giving voice to a particular section of the public. This means that their own mode of operation is based not only on a view of representation, but is also grounded in one or another ideological perspective.

While many if not most of the non-governmental organizations are primarily concerned with achieving political results, that is, in affecting or influencing policies, laws, and agreements, there are other organizations whose primary activity consists of knowledge-making and dissemination. Throughout the world there has been developed independent think-tanks of various kinds as well as units associated with universities, intergovernmental agencies, research and consulting firms that all provide information and education in environmental policy and the sub-sets of substantive issues that comprise environmental politics.1

Some of these "green experts" are directly associated with local activists and civic groups and provide advice or training of one kind or another. Members of the Wuppertal Institute in Germany, the Centre for Science and Environment in India, and the Worldwatch Institute in the United States are all examples of professional environmentalists who mediate between the more "traditional" scientists and engineers at universities and the general public and its environmentalist representatives.

The "knowledge" products of these green experts are highly varied but in general terms we can divide them into three major types. On the one hand there are the factual reports about particular environmental issues -transportation, industrial pollution, climate change, energy technology -that are primarily collections of scientific information: popularizations at best, vulgarizations at worst. These reports, such as those produced by the Worldwatch Institute, are typically written by journalists with some scientific training, or by scientists with some journalistic training, and they tend to be sector-specific, policy-oriented and directed to non-expert readers.

The recent volumes produced by Hilary French of Worldwatch Institute and Anil Agarwal and his colleagues at the CSE on global environmental negotiations provide good examples of both the strengths and limitations of this kind of cognitive praxis (French 2000; Agarwal et al. 1999). They are both based primarily on solid investigative journalism that includes participant observation of key negotiating meetings, and they are filled with up-to-date references to media coverage and a vast range of official and organizational documentation. What is striking, however, is how little reference there is to the extensive academic literature that has been produced on green matters over the past ten years. Especially valuable, for instance, is the work of people like Sheila Jasanoff and Bran Wynne on the ways in which scientific knowledge enters into environmental political negotiations (e.g. Jasanoff 1990; Wynne 1994; Jasanoff and Wynne 1998). It sometimes seems as if academics and activists were living on, and trying to save, two different planets.

In the case of automotive transportation the World Resources Institute has produced a number of reports about the "costs" in human lives and in natural resources of automobiles, and has also produced a book on the need for a totally different approach to transportation, with a large number of specific policy suggestions for reforms at different levels of policy-making (Nadis and MacKenzie 1993). However in this report as in so many other factual, scientific-technical, reports, the input from those social scientists and historians who have tried to put much of this scientific-technical environmental knowledge-production into some kind of broader context is conspicuous by its absence.

A second type of knowledge produced by green experts is what might be termed material for popular education: training books, textbooks, pamphlets, CD-roms, websites, instruction manuals, and the like that are for use in courses, seminars, or study groups of various kinds. There is often a specific audience or readership, for whom these materials are designed, sometimes on a contractual basis. Many of these products are collections of useful practical experiences, or "best practices" (how to save energy, consume environmentally friendly products, institute environmental management procedures) that can be applied by the reader. Others are more specific "brands" of advice, such as the particular program of environmental improvements that the Natural Step proposes to companies.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there are the products that are visionary or innovative in their combinations of different approaches, the proposal of new concepts, or the formulation of new strategies, or new orientations for particular actor-groups or social constituencies. Wolfgang Sachs, for example, from the Wuppertal Institute in Germany, has for many years produced a kind of literature that falls somewhere between environmental social science and journalism. Like the works by Lester Brown and Hilary French from the Worldwatch Institute, Vandana Shiva from India, Helena Norberg-Hodge from the International Society for Ecology and Culture, and, for that matter, Murray Bookchin of the Social Ecology Institute, these are polemical writings that are meant to contribute to environmental consciousness-raising but are not associated with any one particular political group or organization. We can see these political green experts as a new variety of "movement intellectual" who, on an individual level, often think of themselves as part of a movement and yet express their opinions and offer their political suggestions more or less as professional experts, since they are either employed by a green think-tank or earn their living, to a large extent, by their speaking and writing (Eyerman and Jamison 1991; Eyerman 1994).

Relations among these various professional environmentalists are extremely complicated and roles shift as staff members of large organizations sometimes spend time at a think-tank and the experts at think-tanks sometimes set themselves up as consultants. The movement intellectuals often play a mediating role among organizations, and even help to form new organizations or alliances on particular occasions, such as the media-oriented protest events that are arranged at major international gatherings. Professional environmentalists occasionally combine forces on projects or on the preparation of particular meetings or reports that are supported by international foundations and, sometimes, by national governments. And there are a large number of working relationships that have been established over the years among many of these professional environmentalists and other kinds of professional - those in business, the media, in universities, on international bodies, as well as in other NGO sectors (there is, for example, a great deal of overlap between environmentalist and developmental intellectuals).

All of these contingencies or contextual factors make it extremely difficult to assess the quality of the expertise they produce, since much of the material is not subjected to the traditional academic procedures of "peer reviewing" but, rather, is selected on the basis of organizational profiles or identities, personal career trajectories, or the commercial strategies of publishers and companies. In competition with one another - for funding, for readers, for publishing contracts - green experts have little incentive to cooperate, and they also have little reason to develop a more comprehensive program for knowledge production among themselves. The ad hoc, or temporary nature of their contacts with academic researchers, usually on a project-by-project basis, is another factor that affects the coherence of the material that is produced. Some topics are "over-studied" and over-discussed, while others are neglected entirely. As with the scientific world, a tendency exists to follow fashion, or "go for the money." And there is the separation - in "lifestyle," in visibility, and in access to political influence - between the primarily locally based environmentalists and the increasingly cosmopolitan or internationally oriented professional environmentalists.

While the works that are produced by professional environmentalists continue to find audiences - and indeed finding audiences, selling products, "public relations" have become an important element of the cognitive praxis of many environmental organizations - the knowledge that is produced is rarely subjected to serious academic scrutiny. The academic worlds and the activist worlds seldom meet, and I have gotten a clear impression after reading much of the recent literature that the gap is growing. Academic writers seem not to be following particularly closely what activists are discussing in their popular writings, while professional activists seem to be uninterested and uninfluenced by the concepts and new theories and approaches that are being developed in the academic world.

Perhaps the main challenge for professional environmentalists - in both the academic and the non-governmental domains - is to help to re-establish a sense of coherence in relation to all the increasingly disparate movements, networks, campaigns, and alliances. For the large organizations this would involve the development of an explicit process of organizational reflection by which the aims and strategies that first inspired the organization are continually examined and brought up to date. In Europe this means, in particular, a much more open-ended discussion about the impact of Europeanization on environmental policy, that is, the emergence of the European Union as a major actor. Many professional organizations are well connected to their own national policy bodies and environmental authorities, but increasingly the challenge is to extend their international range, or global reach. For the transnational organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF the challenge is to develop new forms of communication with other national groups and organizations and with the new "players" in environmental politics - in business and academic life, civil society and government. Much like companies, the transnational NGOs have pursued their own organizational aims, largely without any broader political or social strategy; but as corporations and corporate interest organizations increasingly seek to set the overall agenda for environmental politics the NGOs need to articulate a clearer and more coherent political program.

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