Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the 20th Century

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"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 Times

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Overview


"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 Times

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.


Journalist Dowie weaves a spellbinding tale, from the movement's conservationist origins as a handful of rich white men's hunting clubs, through the evolution in the 1960s and '70s into a powerful political force that forged landmark environmental legislation.

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Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262041478
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1995
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface: Courting Irrelevance
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Polite Revolution 1
1 The Environmental Imagination 9
2 The Culture of Reform 29
3 Fix Becomes Folly 63
4 Antagonists 83
5 The Third Wave 105
6 Environmental Justice 125
7 Faded Green 175
8 The Fourth Wave 205
Epilogue: A Reason (or Two) for Hope 259
Notes 265
Appendix A Principles of Environmental Justice 284
Appendix B Sierra Club Centennial Address 286
Appendix C The Wise Use Agenda 293
Index 299
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