Now that environmentalism is hip, who is and is not advancing the cause?
Carl Pope is Executive Director of the Sierra Club. Since Pope’s appointment in 1992, Sierra Club has added 150,000 new members, bringing the total membership to 700,000. Pope has a distinguished record of environmental activism and leadership.
Prior to his work with the Sierra Club, Pope served on the Boards of the California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, National Clean Air Coalition, California Common Cause and Public Interest Economics, Inc. He is the co-author of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, and other books including Hazardous Waste in America and Sahib, an American Misadventure in India. Pope was educated at Harvard University and spent two years in the Peace Corps in India on graduation.
Question: Who is and is not advancing the cause?
Carl Pope: Well I think we’re in a very interesting time. I came into environmentalism in 1970. I was 25 years old. There had never been an environmental movement and I was 25, so I needless to say did not know what I was doing. And then after about five years there was kind of a pattern. You kind of knew what you were doing, and you kind of knew what was gonna happen. And the next 30 years I didn’t know who was gonna win elections, but I wasn’t hugely surprised by the things that happened. About two years ago I suddenly started getting hugely surprised again. And I no longer actually know what I’m doing, which is actually kind of exciting at my age. To say well, wow, it’s all new. Because for the last 30 years in the end of the 20th century, what environmentalism did, we tried to clean up after an existing industrial economy. It already existed. The steel mills were there. The aluminum mills were there. The power plants were there. The roads were there. The automobiles were there. The chemical plants were there. The fertilizer factories were there. We tried to clean up what was already there. As we enter the 21st century, we’re gonna invent a new economy in the next 50 years. The global economy of 2050 will not look anything like the global economy of today. The United States will not have the world’s largest economy. This is the first time since 1890 that we haven’t had the world’s largest economy. And whatever the economic arrangements are will be very different. We’re inventing a new economy, and our job in the 21st century is to figure out how to make that new economy sustainable, and how to make it happen quickly. Because the biggest risk is not the new economy. The biggest risk is the old economy is still around us. It’s still dragging us down. It’s still burning up the planet. So we’ve gotta figure out how we replace that old economy really quickly – not just with the new economy, but with the right new economy. Nobody has ever done that before. I would be fooling you if you said I have a high confidence that I know what to do. I have a high confidence that I do not know what to do, but neither does anyone else. So this is a period for all of us to watch closely, and listen carefully, and learn very, very fast.
Recorded on: 9/27/07
This is a period to watch closely, listen carefully, and learn very, very fast, says Pope.
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