For a long time, the mainstream environmental groups in America have been perceived as highly professionalized, with emphasis on lobbying and litigation. The validity of the perception, which is not entirely favorable to a movement that claims to defend all living beings, has also been documented in Gottlieb’s excellent Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement.

Recently, the tactics and strategies of environmental groups have begun to change. They are now mobilizing their membership to participate in activism both online (sign petitions, email representatives) and offline (protests, demonstrations, marches), instead of just begging for donations. According to The New York Times, the change is producing great results:

“By 2011, Mr. Brune’s Sierra Club had created an Internet team to extend the group’s reach. Experimenting with everything from website typefaces to the “sign” button on email petitions, the group sharply increased donations to Sierra campaigns and, since September, recruited 100,000 volunteers.”

One of the reasons for this change in strategy could be the success of 350.org, an organization that focuses on grassroots mobilization via the internet. In a few years, 350 has grown to be perhaps the most visible climate movement in the United States, with equally impressive international activities and global campaigns. While traditional environmental groups continue to rely on different frames and discourses, their tactics now resemble those of 350.

That’s a great thing. American environmental groups have fantastic technical and scientific expertise, and we most definitely need that kind of expertise to formulate good policy and avoid a backlash against poorly designed, expensive regulations. At the same time, it’s not exciting to be an environmentalist if your group only wants your money. We are environmentalists because we care about life, but many of us also want to be part of a community and do something, instead of just paying the salaries of lobbyists and lawyers.

Environmentalism is all about saving the world together and having a ton of fun along the way — it’s exhilarating to see that the American environmental movement has finally struck a balance between expertise, professionalism, and participation. This is an exciting time to be a treehugger!

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