Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution by Frederic C. Rich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If I had the power to make everyone read one book, I think I might spend that power on this book. On the surface, it might seem an odd choice. Fred Rich’s writing style won’t move anyone to tears with descriptions of awesome beauty or powerful prose. I’d even go as far as to say it’s a bit of a textbook. And yet. And yet. Because despite the back-handed nature of this introduction, I’m about to launch into one hell of a compliment.
The ideas in this book are amazing. Rich’s argument about the “Great Estrangement,” as he called it, had me nodding along and muttering “yeah, that’s a really good point” throughout the book. It made me realize that I’m as guilty as anyone of having a short-term view of politics and political history. I may not be strident about it, but I’d fallen into the partisan rift. Rich reminded me that conservation USED to be a core tenet of conservatism, and likely still lingers just below the surface. It was a Republican that gave us the EPA, after all (even if that Republican was Nixon). Teddy Roosevelt is a legend for his dedication to conservation; the roots are there. The bones are there. It’s only recently that this “drill, baby, drill” inanity has taken root.
Rich pulls no punches. He takes the left to task for alienating the right, for making it easy for Green to be dismissed. He argues that Greens have allowed their base to be broad, but shallow; that is, many people say the environment is important, but it’s not on on the top of many voters’ list of priorities. Most of all, however, he argues that Green lost its focus. He points to other movements that have been successful and credits at least some of that success to their laser-focus on their core issue: the Civil Rights Movement and the NRA are (perhaps oddly) his two best examples and as someone who continually despairs at the sense that the NRA and the gun lobby are unstoppable, it’s hard not to agree with that point.
Rich’s core argument is that we need to get back to the Center, what he calls “Center Green.” It’s a position I’ve gravitated towards my entire life, the idea that you should persuade rather than threaten, that it’s more important to be a good ambassador than a ferocious militant. I remain convinced that PETA has done more harm than good, even if their hearts are in the right place, simply because their various stunts have created a reaction in people that is “those PETA people are assholes and I don’t like them, therefore I do not support their position.” People really do shoot the messenger; it’s human nature.
Rich argues that we need to change that and that Green needs to deploy all the tools in its kit to make it happen. We need more focus on the positive work that Green has done (remember acid rain? The impending destruction of the ozone layer?) and less apocalyptic doomsaying. We need to be willing to employ language that many progressives are uncomfortable with, but would be undeniably effective in convincing conservatives to join the cause, such as making environmentalism a moral issue. The trend right now is that the facts should speak for themselves, but the reality is that the facts aren’t enough. People are emotional and can be appealed to emotionally, and it’s not as though there isn’t plenty to be emotional about when it comes to talking about the beauty of the environment and its importance in the lives of people.
Most of all, as I read the book, I kept thinking back to a particular family member of mine. He and I don’t talk politics, ever, but I know he’s as much to the right as I am to the left. But he was the one who taught me how to hike, he taught me how to navigate by map and compass, he put together scavenger hunts for me out in the wood, and he, more than anyone else, shared such an enthusiastic love for the outdoors that I couldn’t help but follow in his example. And yet the modern Green movement has made no room under its tent for a person like him. It has done nothing to make him feel welcome. Here’s the man who is basically my environmental mentor and yet the modern Green movement does not want him, because his politics are different.
Rich argues that needs to change. Green needs to be a center issue, not a progressive one, because that’s the only way anything will every get done. It’s the only way we’re ever going to succeed; all the greatest achievements in environmentalism’s history were done by reaching across the aisle and finding common cause. And although it might seem impossible to imagine in an era of Trumpism, I think that we can rediscover the ability to work together. And this book was instrumental in helping me arrive at that conclusion. I’m ready to work towards Center Green. And I think that, if you read this book, you will most likely feel the same.
2 thoughts on “Review: Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution”
I remember my dad always taught me that pretty much every successful conservation effort has been the result of hunters, people who really understand and appreciate nature. I don’t know how much of that is true, but I can certainly appreciate that the gulf between conservatives and environmentalists doesn’t stem from conservative apathy for the outdoors.
I may not precisely be a conservative, but I certainly take issue with a lot of the approaches and favorite policies of the Green Left. I’d like to read this book and see Rich’s analysis lines up with my experience, and then maybe we could have a very fruitful discussion on the topic.
I think you’d get a lot out of it, definitely. It’s a conversation I look forward to having. And yes, I agree that Green needs to get in bed with hunters, like, yesterday, and I’m saying that as a vegetarian. (Although, to be fair, I’m the sort of vegetarian who has no issues with hunting, recognizing the value hunting plays in managing ecological balance in an era where large predator populations are almost annihilated, so it’s perhaps not all that weird).
But I absolutely think, and Rich argues this in his book, that the way Greens have married themselves to the entire Progressive/Left slate of issues is a mistake (and that’s from someone who supports virtually the entire Left slate of issues).
Furthermore, it’s shooting ourselves in the foot (heh) to not ally with hunters, sportsmen, and other groups who share our same goal; healthy ecosystems and preserved natural spaces. This is something I’ve come to realize is more and more important over the years; if we share the same goal (healthy environment, for example), why the fuck should it matter if I’m doing it because I’m fixated on being a weird tree-hugger and someone else is doing it because she feels it’s a religious imperative declared by God while someone else wants to be able to hunt? Our goal is the same; how we got there shouldn’t matter.
I digress. I hope you get a chance to read it and I look forward to our discussion.