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Dowie is an award-winning journalist with a penchant for radical inquiry. He has tackled the
American environmental movement out of frustration, believing that it should have accomplished
much more than it has. Why environmentalism has failed to live up to its potential occupies much of
Dowie's rigorous analysis. He begins with a scathing history of the movement's first stirrings, an
effort by well-heeled, elitist white men to maintain wilderness areas for recreational purposes. The
next phase pitted conservationists interested in "wise use" against the more prescient
preservationists. Dowie tracks the rapid devolution of "wise use" into abuse during the Reagan years
and the foolish fallback tactics of the green movement, which bureaucratized itself into little more
than a direct-mail machine. As critical as Dowie is, he does see hope in the next phase of this
phoenixlike movement. He believes that a genuinely democratic form of environmentalism--linked to
civil rights, focused on urban as well as rural environmental issues, and involving women and men of
all races and cultures--is possible and promising. Let's hope so. Donna Seaman --This text refers
to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Losing Ground is an ambitious and brave book. Mr. Dowie has marshaled an exceptionally broad
array of facts and produced a provocative explanation for why a once vibrant social movement is
flagging....one of the truly important books on a genuinely American social movement." -- Keith
Schneider, New York Times Book Review
"Perhaps the most interesting environmental book published yet this year." -- The Washington
A recent history replete with compromise and capitulation has pushed a once promising and
effective political movement to the brink of irrelevance.
So states Mark Dowie in this provocative critique of the mainstream American environmental
movement. Dowie, the prolific award-winning journalist who broke the stories on the Dalkon Shield
and on the Ford Pinto, delivers an insightful, informative, and often damning account of the
movement many historians and social commentators at one time expected to be this century's most
significant. He unveils the inside stories behind American environmentalism's undeniable triumphs
and its quite unnecessary failures.
Dowie weaves a spellbinding tale, from the movement's conservationist origins as a handful of rich
white men's hunting and fishing clubs, through its evolution in the 1960s and 1970s into a powerful
political force that forged landmark environmental legislation, enforced with aggressive litigation, to
the strategy of "third wave" political accommodation during the Reagan and Bush years that led to
the evisceration of many earlier triumphs, up to today, where the first stirrings of a rejuvenated,
angry, multicultural, and decidedly impolite movement for environmental justice provides new hope
for the future.
Dowie takes a fresh look at the formation of the American environmental imagination and examines
its historical imperatives: the inspirations of Thoreau, the initiatives of John Muir and Bob Marshall,
the enormous impact of Rachel Carson, the new ground broken by Earth Day in 1970, and the
societal antagonists created in response that climaxed with the election of Ronald Reagan. He details
the subsequent move toward polite, ineffectual activism by the mainstream environmental groups,
characterized by successful fundraising efforts and wide public acceptance, and also by new
alliances with corporate philanthropists and government bureaucrats, increased degradation of
environmental quality, and alienation of grassroots support. Dowie concludes with an inspirational
description of a noncompromising "fourth wave" of American environmentalism, which he predicts
will crest early in the next century.
Losing Ground unveils the inside stories behind American environmentalism's undeniable triumphs
and its quite unnecessary failures. Journalist Mark Dowie, who broke the stories on the Dalkon
Shield and the Ford Pinto, delivers an insightful, informative, and often damning account of the
movement many historians and social commentators at one time expected to be this century's most
About the Author
Mark Dowie is currently editor at large of InterNation, a transnational feature syndicate based in
New York. A former publisher and editor of Mother Jones magazine, he is the recipient of fourteen
major journalism awards, including an unprecedented three National Magazine Awards.
Critique of mainstream's blindsiding of the environment., October 5, 1996
Reviewer: A reader
Perhaps the greatest weakness of individual environmentalists and the environmental
"movement" is the absence of public self-examination. While political insiders may clearly
see the difference between the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, the public
has few resources to gauge them. Opening the doors is author Mark Dowie, a champion of
local activism and the integration of environmental issues with other social movements.
Tracing the origins and bureaucratization of the environmental movement, Dowie criticizes
the most recent surge of co-option, the "third wave" or economics-based
environmentalism. "Regulatory flexibility and 'constructive engagement' with industry have
created some business heroes, but they can be counted on one hand," he writes. "The
rest, unfortunately, need to be regulated." This is not to say this book is a rant against
environmental business. There are no heroes or villains in this book, which makes it a
rarity in the environmental lexicon. Instead, Dowie criticizes the corporate structure of
environmental groups, and portrays each organization with their individual merits and
flaws. Compromising Local Leadership Dowie reminds readers of the decision by the
Natural Resources Defense Council and Cultural Survival to negotiate with the Ecuadorian
government over oil drilling in the Yasuni Reserve. Arguing that oil drilling would be
inevitable, and "[w]ithout consulting the Huaorani people or the appropriate Ecuadorian
environmental organizations, [NRDC's] Scherr and Kennedy struck a deal: Conoco could
drill on the Huaoroni reserve in return for a $10-million donation to an Ecuadorian
foundation created by NRDC and Cultural Survival, an indigenous-rights groups based in
Cambridge, Massachusetts." The NAFTA debate saw essentially the same argument made:
free trade is inevitable, so environmentalists have to go along and get what they can.
NAFTA's "It's a win-win-win situation" argument was accepted by various environmental
groups. In the long run, the agreement and side provisions may indeed provide resources
and rewards for cross-border environmental planning. But Dowie draws back to review the
consequences of increased commerce. "It should be clear to any environmental thinker
that free trade can only lead to the globalization of massive, consumer- based economies
that are, in the long run, whatever the legislated safeguards, ecologically destructive. But
mainstream environmental officials evidently don't think a lot about the distant future.
Like the corporations they have come to resemble, they tend to be occupied with the
day-to-day imperatives of strategy, competition and survival." From a parochial
viewpoint, it would have been interesting had Dowie included a critique of the way in
which many D.C. groups finally "discovered" environmental problems along the border and
how most of these organizations lost interest in the border after NAFTA passed. It would
also be interesting to document the criticism the mainstream groups made of those local
groups that disagreed with them on the potential consequences of NAFTA. At the Center
and Stumbling The problem with mainstream environmental groups stems from their
decisions in the 1980s to focus energies on power plays in Washington, D.C., instead of
reaching out to state and community organizations. Had the focus remained on "reaching
out to state, local and regional organizations," he writes, "the American environmental
movement today would be much stronger and more consequential than it is. An explosive
critical mass of national activism could have been formed. Instead, a relatively harmless
and effete new club appeared." Dowie suggests that the disproportionate ratio of funding
(70 percent to 30 percent) between mainstream and grassroots groups remains an
obstacle for community organization, suggesting that "a 20-point shift, of $200 million
would change the complexity of the entire environmental community." The publication of
Losing Ground offers readers an insightful view of relations among environmental groups,
many of which demand transparency in government and business circles, but not among
themselves or their colleagues. This is one of the most valuable guidebooks and is one of
the year's must-reads.
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