A Strategic Conversation on the Role of Environmental Organizations in New Economy System Change

A broader alliance with a common platform to address systemic issues can create the New Economy

About the Discussion

There is a difference among environmental organizations between those that seek solutions to critical environmental issues working within the existing economic system and those that, while they may work within the system, also work to change the system. The former often argue we have no time. Environmental systems are collapsing. We have no choice. We must find solutions within the existing economic structures. The latter argue that these structures are the primary cause of both environmental systems collapse and economic injustice. Environmental collapse cannot be reversed within the existing system. In the end, the failed system must be replaced. And that requires effective leadership from all elements of civil society—in particular from those who bear the most immediate and severe consequences of the multiplicity of failures of the existing system. This interactive New Economy Transition (NET) discussion features leaders of environmental and movement organizations exploring the following questions:  

  1. What system changes are most crucial and what lessons have been learned from attempting to achieve them?
  2. How do we address the argument that we lack sufficient time to deal with institutional and economic justice issues?
  3. Do the differences among environmental organizations hamper effective action? What opportunities exist to bridge the gap—or at least avoid working at cross-purposes?
  4. Is there any point in trying to engage a discussion of these choices across the broad spectrum of environmental organizations? If so, how might that be approached?
  5. This NET discussion will also touch on the foundational need for a living Earth story frame that can potentially unify the two camps.

John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, opens the discussion with four insightful questions about the types of system changes necessary for a new economy transition, and challenges that may be encountered in the transition process. Then, Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, of Movement Generation, responds to John, arguing for a just transition process and the need to break the rules of the government and create new ones favorable to the transition process. Burt Lauderdale, Executive Director, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, gives his idea on what the role of organizations is in the new economy transition process: which is to build a new power economy.  Next, May Boeve, Executive Director, 350.org, recommends that organizations align to create public awareness about the problem of climate change, inequality and democracy in the nation.  She is then followed by Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth, who speaks about the food justice movement, the food democratization movement, and the energy democratization movement, which he believes all build power. And then, Gus Speth, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, emphasizes the need to surround as many people as possible with successful new economy initiatives at the local level, that are based on justice and exemplify a larger just transition.


Suggested Background Readings

Angels by the River by Gus Speth

When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten

The Divest and Reinvest Initiative

Obama's Clean Power Plan


The Minutes for this NET Session

These minutes (PDF) contain not only the presentations in the audio recording above, but also the question and answer sessions that took place throughout the session.