Commercial fishermen are often the targets of negative publicity that goes viral. In the most recent example, Oceana’s report on the nine dirtiest U.S. fisheries provided material for at least a week’s worth of news and social media headlines, rewrites, blog posts, tweets, likes and shares.
Words are needed to fill all that space on the web, and the Oceana report is an aggregator’s dream. It provided a number (those get more clicks) and a provocative word. Do you really believe “dirty” was chosen because it’s the most accurate description?
The message was successful. Or was it? Despite the movement having more money and power, environmentalists’ shift from organizing to political dealmaking and viral messaging has actually made them less successful, argues critic Nicholas Lemann.
The subject comes up in Lemann’s review for the New Yorker of “The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-in Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation” by Adam Wong. Though lacking central coordination and big-money, that first event drew millions of earnest participants and preceded the passage of important environmental legislation in the 1970s like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In contrast, the modern movement failed to pass the carbon emissions bill — its most important recent legislation — in 2010. Lemann writes it’s arguable there’s been no significant environmental legislation since an acid rain reduction bill in 1990. He points out the difference between then and now:
“The organizers of Earth Day never would have been able to get a substantial group of corporate chief executives to sit down with them and negotiate, even if they had wanted to. Today’s big environmental groups recruit through direct mail and the media, filling their rosters with millions of people who are happy to click ‘Like’ on clean air. What the groups lack, however, is the Earth Day organizers’ ability to generate thousands of events that people actually attend — the kind of activity that creates pressure on legislators.”
I used to think commercial fishermen were at a disadvantage because they lack a simplified and cohesive message. But the kind of grassroots activity Lemann talks about still happens in commercial fishing, and it has been successful. That was the case when fishermen from Alaska traveled around the country to successfully obtain Clean Water Act protection for Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine.
I’m glad to know real people doing things is still worth more than meaningless buzz. As new threats to Bristol Bay’s protection arise and the reauthorization of Magnuson proceeds, it’s critical to keep up that type of activity: Attend hearings and write your legislators. Let them know what’s important to you.
This subject gave me a lot to think about and I’m curious what our readers will think about it too. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!