A corporate lawyer and conservation leader argues that only a new bipartisan coalition can end the legislative logjam facing the American environmental movement.
Rich (Christian Nation, 2013)—a former partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, where he represented many oil and other multinational corporations as well as leaders in the national Land Trust Alliance—brings an understanding of both the corporate and environmental worlds to this fresh and welcome analysis of a green movement that “has lost its way.” In a powerful opening, he notes that the last major environmental bill passed in the United States, the Clean Air Act of 1990, was a compromise based on a market approach, the kind of legislation not possible in today’s polarized politics. The bipartisan consensus of the 1960s and 1970s (President Richard Nixon called environmentalism “a cause beyond party and beyond factions”) fell apart with the Ronald Reagan revolution of the 1980s, leading to the present “Great Estrangement,” with conservatives drifting rightward and environmentalists leftward. To repair the breach, conservatives must reassert their traditional leadership of conservation causes (à la Theodore Roosevelt) and temper their market fundamentalism. Greens have to learn to compromise, to tone down alarmist demands and offer a more hopeful vision, and to reform their mostly aging, white movement to win national support. Rich’s call for change is sometimes wildly ambitious and seems especially unobtainable in light of current left-right debates, but his experience is unquestionably relevant. His frank views will leave both sides somewhat offended but will hopefully prove useful in teasing out the best impulses of both corporate and environmental leaders in the service of nature. All will certainly appreciate the author’s thoughtful, sharp examination of issues that have prevented legislative action on climate change for two decades. As Rich notes, mobilizing even a “sufficient number” of moderates and conservatives can make a significant difference.
Essential reading for anyone with a stake in the environmental debate.