The Emerging Environmental Majority

THE EMERGING ENVIRONMENTAL MAJORITY….The original environmental movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was led by a coalition that might seem like an odd one by today’s standards: hunters and fishers who were concerned about exploitation of the wilderness allied with urban reformers concerned about public health. That alliance, which survived for nearly a century, died 40 years ago when liberals started supporting curbs on hunting and gun rights, and outfits like the NRA were transformed from hunting safety groups into explicitly political organizations. Since then, environmentalist has been a dirty word among the mostly rural and mostly conservative “hook-and-bullet” community.

Today, though, both sides are starting to rethink their split. At the same time that the Sierra Club has been reaching out to hunters, the hunting and fishing community has started to become seriously concerned about the Bush administration’s rapacious support for drilling and mining on public land ? support that helps big corporate contributors to Republican coffers but steadily eats away at wilderness land used by hunters and anglers.

But as Christina Larson reports in “The Emerging Environmental Majority,” there’s a bigger issue brewing that might finally re-cement the old alliance:

It’s global warming that will almost certainly “be the glue that brings everyone together,” as National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Larry Schweiger puts it. Last year, Lake Erie did not freeze, leaving ice fishermen scratching their heads. The Waterfowlers’ Guide to Global Warming (PDF), published last summer by NWF, explains how climate change could produce droughts across the Midwest and evaporate the region’s “prairie pothole” wetlands ? vital duck-breeding grounds. Global warming recently made the cover of Trout, the magazine of Trout Unlimited; the article cited a Pew Center study that found that a 4.8 degree temperature increase could halve trout habitat in the Rocky Mountain Region (trout thrive in cold water).

Because the potential effects of the problem are so sweeping, the threat ? and lately, the reality ? of climate change has become a top concern across a broad spectrum of organizations. Evangelical Christians are calling for carbon reductions. An agricultural coalition, 25 by ’25, is pushing for renewable energy. Insurance companies are calculating potentially catastrophic losses. Sportsmen are gathering data on shifting habitat and changing stream flows. “I think we’ve reached a tipping point in public awareness,” says Steven Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adding, “Sportsmen want a seat at the table.”

As more and more people begin to realize that the scientific debate over manmade global warming really is over, I think we can expect to see more shifts like this. It’s a real opportunity for the liberal community to expand its reach.