What environmentalists should do now: advice from the experts

Like many of you, I woke up the day after the presidential election with one thought on my mind:  What’s going to happen to the progress we’ve made on the environment, and the progress we need to make?  We’re at a precarious point in history — a bad time to stand still on environmental issues, and a catastrophic time to go backwards.

Like many of you, I quickly found I was not alone.  My inbox was flooded with appeals and post-mortems and marching orders from the various environmental groups I follow and belong to.  They all had what sounded like great advice, but it was getting a little overwhelming, especially because what I really wanted to do was go back to bed and tremble under the covers.

But I distilled it down to a few common themes, and I thought this might be helpful to those of you in similar circumstances:

1.  Don’t panic. Or panic, if you want do, but then calm down and focus. As Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash reported in Slate, the president-elect does not have unlimited powers to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency or rescind EPA rules made under previous administrations. And, as Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, points out, “Fortune 500 companies—Apple, Google, IKEA, even GM—are investing in clean energy. Trump-Pence-[Paul] Ryan can’t touch that.”  So take a moment to feel your fear, but then gather your energy and proceed with laser focus on your goals. 

2.  Like I said, focus.  Pick the issues that matter most to you, and the group or groups you most want to support.  Do you care about wildlife?  Preserving the Clean Power Plan regulations?  Combating climate change denial?  Water pollution?  Green building?  Renewable energy?  Pick one and devote as much time and money to it as you can.  As 350.org Communications Director Jamie Henn told Grist.org, “The way that movements work and are most effective is not that everyone does the same thing, or that everyone adopts the same messaging.  It’s about having a diversity of approaches that work together — an ecosystem, if you will — that are somewhat in concert with one another.”
Consider focusing locally so you can see and feel the effect you have.  As Bill McKibben told Mother Jones, “There's plenty of room for working at the state and local level, and that's likely what we'll have to do a lot of.”  

3.  Do something real.  Clicktivism feels good – signing petitions and posting on Facebook, etc.  These can be valuable, but it’s more important to participate in ways that are proven to actually move the needle.  For example, calling legislators is more effective than writing, and sending physical mail is more effective than email. Basically, the more time and energy you put into communicating, the more seriously you will be taken.

And this philosophy extends beyond communicating.  Donating money to organizations is key, but so is just plain old showing up.  Attend marches and demonstrations where numbers will attract media and legislative attention.  Research creative ways of getting your point across and organize people to help you.  Go to town hall meetings and public hearings and ask questions or make statements.  As D.C. Director of Environment America Anna Aurilio told High Country News, in 1994 after a group of vocally anti-environmental Republicans won the House of Representatives, “environmentalists went to congressional districts of House Republicans, educated people about the GOP onslaught on the environment and helped then-President Clinton force Republicans to give up their anti-environment agenda.”

4.  Stay informed.  It might not seem like it sometimes, but facts still do matter.  It’s important to know what you’re talking about, so you can influence others.  Some of my favorite information sources are Grist.org, Greenbiz.com, and Climatedesk.org.  What are the sources you value?  Please list them in the Comments section.  

Guest Contributor - L. Bell