Environmentalism Extends Its Reach
`If you want the job done right, do it yourself': The signs are clear that millions of US citizens are taking this adage to heart with respect to ridding their nation of pollution.
THE environmental movement in the United States today stands poised to have greater influence than ever before.Skip to next paragraph
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It has seen extraordinary growth in membership, budgets, and influence in recent years. From economics to technology to business to energy to transportation to education, environmental thinking now permeates dozens of disciplines and policy areas. And with the launching of the Clinton-Gore administration next week, environmentalists believe they have true friends in the White House for the first time in a dozen years.
"This is the fastest growing political movement in the country and the world," Vice President-elect Al Gore Jr. told the Monitor. "There has been an explosion of activity and concern at the grass-roots level. Many people who previously gave little thought to the environment now recognize it as among their core concerns."
Mr. Gore, who may be characterized as the nation's senior environmentalist - for his work as a lawmaker, as author of the book "Earth in the Balance," and soon as second in command in Washington - notes that there is "much more sophistication ... much more involvement in the political process" by local groups as well as the major national organizations.
In the recent presidential election, Gore says, "all over the country some of our best volunteers and precinct captains were environmentalists.... They were extremely determined, extremely effective, very committed, and very savvy."
In return, environmentalists were strongly represented on President-elect Clinton's transition teams dealing with natural resources, energy, and agriculture. Senior staff members from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Audubon Society, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and the National Wildlife Federation were on these teams.
There are estimated to be as many as 10,000 environmental organizations in the country today. They range from local groups, which may exist for only a few months to battle such things as dump sites, to established institutions with dozens of lawyers, economists, and natural scientists on their full-time staffs.
Jim Maddy, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters, says the 20 largest groups together can now raise $1 billion a year.
Due largely to what were seen as threats from the Reagan and Bush administrations, such groups over the past few years saw steep increases in contributions. The Environmental Defense Fund's annual revenue, for example, jumped nearly sixfold from $3.4 million to $20.2 million from 1985 to 1992. The National Wildlife Federation (the largest of the so-called "Big 10" environmental groups, with 5.3 million members and supporters) has an annual budget that is larger than that of the United Nations Environment
Such numbers have had increasing electoral impact. The most prominent environmental political action committees (those affiliated with the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters) doubled their combined spending in 1992 to $1 million and expect to double it again in 1994 and then again in 1996.
US-based environmental research organizations - such as the World Resources Institute, Worldwatch Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute - have grown similarly in number and influence. Such groups provide the intellectual underpinning, as well as political ammunition and influence, for environmental groups and their lawmaking friends.
For example, the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, which has 32 full-time staff members, brings in $9,000 a day in sales, subscriptions, and royalties from five publications - including its annual "State of the World" report published in 26 languages. Worldwatch president Lester Brown routinely addresses business groups and government agencies in this country and abroad.
"Al Gore called last week," Mr. Brown said in a recent interview at his organization's posh new offices a few blocks from the White House. "And Bill Clinton reads `State of the World.' "
But the biggest growth in individual environmental activism has come at the local level, much of it tied to land conservation as well as problems involving toxic waste. For example, land trusts that buy land for conservation have been forming at the rate of about one a week, according to Patrick Noonan, president of the Conservation Fund. And the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes, based in Falls Church, Va., has provided technical information over the last 10 years to more than 7,000 community
"The environmental movement is pulsating out there in the neighborhoods," says Rep. George Miller (D) of California, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources (until recently called the Interior Committee). "People are learning about their neighborhoods and the environment. They're expanding both in their knowledge and in their willingness to take actions - and they're having success."