The Nightmare and the Dream – part 1

I had an interesting comment in response to my recent post ‘the logical extension of lobbying’. In it I was referred to the work of Robert Brulle. So off I went to the all-seeing google of the north and, sure enough, a quick search threw up (if you’ll excuse the phrase) a mass of information on Brulle.  I read though a list of his works available online and tried to pick one that sounded most relevant to Simpol – not an easy task as much of his work seems to bear on what we do!

Nevertheless, in the end I selected Fixing the Bungled U.S. Environmental Movement (co-written with J. Craig Jenkins) and began to read through it. I found some very interesting reading, to say the least.  There isn’t space here to go through it all in detail, but perhaps a few quotes might be in order:

First they talk about some worrying facts regarding the (US) environment:

“…34 years after the Clean Water Act passed more than half of US waters remain significantly degraded… Also according to the EPA, more than 146 million  residents live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution”

But the greater part of the piece is given over to a pretty scathing critique of the environmental movement as a whole (in the US):

“Today’s environmental movement seems to have become complacent and overly bureaucratic, a movement dominated by ‘protest businesses’ that substitute professional advocacy for citizen action….member are check writers, not activists…the majority of grassroots members simply come along for the ride.”

“…today one of the paramount problems of the movement is the perception among potential supporters that their individual contributions won’t make a difference.”

“…without a paradigm shift from the top down approach where members of environmental organizations are treated as budget funders to a grassroots focus that will engage citizens to take specific actions that stem the tide of environmental degradation, our environmental movement won’t have the right approach…”

Now firstly, this was clearly written as a critique specifically (and only) of the US environmental movement. I don’t think these criticisms apply nearly so strongly in the UK, although I do think there are some elements of truth there. Indeed part of the point of the ‘logical extension’ piece I wrote was to say that Simpol would allow NGOs –  and thus the environmental movement amongst many others – to have precisely the paradigm shift set out by Brulle.

Secondly it appears to have been written in 2008. It’s pretty clear to me that things have changed pretty rapidly and substantially since 2008 in more ways than it is possible to list. Certainly I think the progressive movement as a whole is more grass roots focused than perhaps ever before and different areas – environmental, democratic, poverty, social justice and so on – are linking up much more than before.

This is critical because it allows people to engage with the issues that affect them in a variety of ways. In doing so they join in a creatively osmotic process that connects them to other people and their hopes, fears, problems and solutions.

I haven’t found – yet! –  any specific quotes from Brulle on ‘the dream and the nightmare’ but it is this process of sharing and learning that must lead to this view. When we share our fears and problems we describe (and recoil from) The Nightmare. When we share our hopes and our solutions we are creating The Dream.

It’s a dream of a better future for us all. This dream, I think resides deep inside us all. But I think perhaps it gets downtrodden by the march of ‘progress’ and is hidden by the ever present threat of unbridled competition.

We need to find a way to bring this Dreaming into the mainstream so that together we can decide what the dream is and how to bring it to reality.

But more of that in part 2 – coming soon!



4 thoughts on “The Nightmare and the Dream – part 1

  1. “Nightmare and dream” are from a comment posted by Brulle in the NYT in a comment thread to an article by Revkin. Here it is:

    “Linking action to a specific scientific claim that can be disputed,” such as exceeding certain critical thresholds in the level of carbon in the global atmosphere, “tipping points” in the future that, theoretically, will render the planet unfit for life, “is hardly the type of language,” writes Brulle, “that will increase issue saliency in the public.”

    “Since we aren’t yet past the tipping points, or if we are past them, the evidence has not emerged unambiguously from the background variance, it is difficult to maintain the truth of dire predictions in the future.

    “Yet the environmental movement uses these thresholds as a
    rallying cry.”

    Brulle goes on to explain what sort of language will work:

    “Forty years of social science research shows that…an effective rhetoric critiques the current situation and offers a Utopian vision of where society needs to go. It is this combination of threats and opportunities – nightmares combined with dreams – that fuel social movement mobilization and social change.”

    GO for it. Give us the dream!

  2. Aha, that would be why I couldn’t find it then! 🙂

    I will make sure to use that in part 2 where I’ll look at what the nightmare is and what the dream could be.

    Watch this space!

  3. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any helpful hints for first-time blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

    • Hi Lauretta,

      Apologies if your first response disappeared. The spam filter can be a bit hyperactive at times! Thank you for your kind remarks. 🙂

      If you’d like to post a lengthier response to the article I will watch for your name and be able to approve it.

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