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When environmentalism fails—the short-sightedness of exclusivism

September 23 2010 | Activism, Jim's Blog,
by Jim

I've written about the need for onramps (various ways we can reach out to connect people to the environment). I've also talked at length regarding the need for environmentalism to embrace a big tent approach -  that is, we must welcome all ages, all political bents, all people. When someone asks me "why isn't environmentalism... larger?" I tend to circle back to these concepts. Environmentalism fails when we push people away. Environmentalism fails when we suggest it's only for some and not for others. Environmentalism fails when we do anything to limit its ability to scale or its ability to be embraced by the mainstream population. We do these things with our excessive use of jargon, which suggests a line between insiders and outsiders. We do these things when we put limitations on involvement, by effectively putting environmentalism behind a velvet rope. We do these things when we suggest that environmentalism is more of a club and less of a movement. A friend recently responded to our reminder to renew her membership by sharing with me that her local Surfrider group seemed to have an insider/outsider barrier which was based on the distinction of whether a person surfed or didn't surf. I don't want to overstate how wrong I think this is, but let me simply categorize it as "tragic". She left the local chapter because she felt like she wasn't a surfer and therefore not a part of the "in" crowd. This example paints a near perfect picture of why coastal cultures haven't fully shifted to embrace a coastal environmental ethic. Clubs offer exclusivity. Movements seek engagement of all people. Make no mistake, Surfrider Foundation is the latter. Surfrider's mission is "protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network." Our mission says nothing about having to be a surfer. We're coastal people, we love where we live and we're engaged to preserve it. It's that simple. Some of us are surfers. Some others are fishermen. Some are kayakers, some are beach walkers. Some are kids and some are elderly. Some lean to the right politically and some lean to the left. We're coastal people that want to engage others living nearby to address things like local water quality, beach access and preservation. This isn't a club, it's a movement. When we push people away we're thinking tiny. If you surf (regardless of what kind of craft) read Matt Walker's piece "The new localism" which is arguably the smartest thing written about surfing in the modern era. If surfers want waves protected they need ALL the help they can get. Protecting a wave includes protecting access to that wave, it includes protecting the water quality of the wave, etc. If you don't surf and are interested in our mission, welcome. We'd love to have you join us. Find a chapter here, follow us on Twitter here and our main Facebook page is here.
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