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Election 08: The sand beneath our feet

November 04 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

It's election day so I assume the American readers of this blog have done their duty or will do it before polls close. Aside from the seemingly all-consuming red state/blue state debates and second-by-second updates... I'm missing something.

What I'm missing is the environment.

Look at the poll to the right, I asked this question a few weeks ago "which is more important, the economy or the environment?" Of course I know that it's not that simple, it's not black and white... one OR the other. But I asked the question to force things into a category.

More than 80% of you said the environment is more important that the economy.

Now I know the readers of this blog are probably bent in that direction so, by itself, the responses to this question didn't really surprise me (although I must say that in the midst of a world-wide financial free fall I did think more than 20% would say "the economy").

What piqued my attention on this subject was my interactions with all my friends that AREN'T as hip-deep in environmental issues/campaigns are many of you are. When I asked them what the top issues were... "the environment" was almost always a top three. Sure many are concerned about other issues than this but "the environment" kept sneaking into their top few.

It was easy to see that people truly are concerned about the earth beneath their feet, or the perhaps the sand beneath their feet.

So why is it that as we drive all over the United States we see sign after sign after sign after sign telling us which issues are most important and who we should vote for... and we see no environmental issues directly portrayed in this one-way messaging push?

Why is it that the environment is a large issue to us and yet it's seemingly been pushed down, way down, on our collective list?

That doesn't make sense to me... I know, in many cases we vote for candidates who we expect will represent our views on environmental issues. This could be an answer to why we don't see signs for individual issues like the plethora of signs for the candidates. But this flavor of thinking has proven to have downsides as both presidential candidates flipped on offshore drilling.

Furthermore we DO actually see lots of signs on specific issues, each state has their hot issues and each of these hot issues is represented by an endless sea of signage and stickers.

My sense is that this has happened for a number of reasons.

Lack of grassroots leadership on key issues.
Surfrider understands grassroots activism. We've taken a leadership role on a number of issues and campaigns and yet it's quite challenging for any organization to turn an army of grassroots activists as quickly as seemingly all of Washington flipped on the offshore drilling issue. Turns like that, that happen inside of a month or two, are scary (or should be scary) for citizens because they are voting for candidates with an assumption that past behaviors and statements project future behavior. This has proven to be ill-rooted logic with the case with offshore drilling. Clearly there are massive opportunities for grassroots groups to use fast-clumping tool sets to challenge realtime position shifts. I expect this category to take care of itself within a decade as a critical mass of people are embracing the every-connected network and are showing a high interest in sharing/consuming information outside of formal, traditional news/information dissemination networks.

Competition.
Our attention span is a limited commodity. Our day has a set number of hours. Our lives are a zero sum game, meaning we can only take on so many issues/interests without shedding others. I spoke about this a few weeks ago when I compared Surfrider to top TV shows, we understand that in order to make a connection with you we are competing much more with your top alternatives to engaging with us (watching The Office or something) rather than with another environmental organization. Truth is, we compete for mindshare everyday and every hour. This is why a myriad of onramps to our mission is so important. In a similar vein environmental issues in this election have competed with EVERYthing else, other things on the ballot and everything else in your life. Overall, environmental issues lost.

Intangibility.
Most of us go to a job that creates "things"... those might be reports, guidelines, products, services, etc. Many of us "build" all day long. People that work in the environmental community rarely build, they usually "protect." When they leave their place of work they think about what was secured, what was saved, what was protected... this is abstract. I see this as I've straddled both worlds. My sense is that most people that haven't straddled both worlds question what many environmental groups do... what do they really do all day? It's intangible, it's abstract... this is why many groups try so hard to make their fights tangible. The panda, the endangered mammal... the wave. My belief is that this abstract quality pushes things down in priority, especially when they are competing for mindshare against very concrete issues or candidates.

These are my views.

Why do you think environmental issues have been pushed so far down on the list? Why are individual campaigns not represented with the vigor they deserve to be?
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