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Redefining the Debate

It is time for a new American environmentalism.  What we are doing is not working, at least not enough to be successful. Environmental challenges are growing in number and complexity so fast that we cannot keep pace. Actions are urgently needed to secure a sustainable future, but agreement about what to do, and the political willpower to do it, are lacking.

Our goal is to create a new approach to environmentalism that brings all relevant parties to the table. It will:

  • Have a basis in objective science, agenda-free and trusted by all
  • Be guided by our best values and be respectful of diverse cultures, aspirations and beliefs
  • Focus on shared elements of a vision of a future rich in opportunities for both people and nature
  • Shatter prior assumptions and stereotypes, deny limitations, and bridge polarized political camps

It is true that public sympathy for environmental issues has increased significantly since the 1970s, conservation success stories are many and landmark pieces of legislation have been enacted. However, we are not even close to meeting today’s challenges.  We need to fundamentally change environmentalism, how it is perceived, and how it is practiced.

When the boundary between science and advocacy— much less, activism — becomes blurred, science itself is called into question.  We need objective science, advocacy, and activism; but just as important is the need to distinguish among them.  Science — the knowledge and facts about the environment — rightfully belongs to everyone. What we do with that knowledge is another matter.

Environmentalists who are scientists should be the cosmologists of the biosphere, exploring and understanding the origins, history, organization, and functions of the biosphere and its components. Environmentalists who are not scientists should be informed citizens dedicated to the well-being of our planet at all scales, from local to global. Together with policy-makers, the resulting blend of trusted science and informed and motivated activists offers hope that we will successfully meet these challenges. 

The Center for A New American Environmentalism is ESF’s commitment to reboot environmentalism to better serve humanity and the natural world.  Through leading events and activities, ESF’s CNAE will:

  • Find common ground, revealing a vignette of the future we wish to create
  • Rebuild trust in science by clearly distinguishing between testable knowledge and advocacy or activist agendas
  • Depolarize the environment as a political issue
  • Increase public understanding of environmental issues
  • Encourage a close examination of our values, individually and collectively, as they relate to the ways in which we use resources and interact with the natural world
  • Bring about the search for solutions to environmental challenges as an integral part of good citizenship
  • Make the United States a world leader, by example, of a new environmentalism

An excerpt from the symposium, featuring Professor Robin Kimmerer

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