Published on Friday, September 21, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
Environmental Groups Drop Campaign Criticizing Bush
by Martin Mittelstaedt
Several influential U.S. environment groups have silenced their criticism of the U.S. government and stopped lobbying for conservation measures because of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The Sierra Club, one of the largest U.S. environmental groups, last week dropped all of its work challenging Bush administration policies. Greenpeace, known for its high-profile environmental campaigns using civil disobedience, has also decided to take a lower profile.
The terrorist attacks have rattled the leaders of environmental organizations and made them wary of being viewed as divisive and unpatriotic while the country faces a national trauma.
As well, the attacks have swept environmental issues off the political agenda.
"We lost the stomach, both personally and individually, for some of the fights we had been engaged in prior to that," Craig Culp, a spokesman for Greenpeace in the United States, said.
The decision by the groups to play down activism could have implications on a number of pressing public-policy issues, including the U.S. response to global warming, the opening up of Alaska's Arctic wildlife reserve to oil drilling and the development of the Star Wars missile-defence system.
Until the attacks, environmentalists had been on a roll. They had launched highly effective attacks on the Bush administration on issues ranging from the higher arsenic levels allowed in drinking water to the government's failure to endorse the Kyoto pact on global warming.
The administration had inadvertently become a boon to conservation groups, which were successfully using the government's anti-environmental policies as tools to raise funds and to mobilize their members.
But with the terrorism crisis, those campaigns became unexpected collateral damage.
The head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, issued a statement shortly after the attacks saying his group was going to pause because of the country's national-security crisis and unsettled public mood.
"Our nation faces other long-term problems and challenges, but now is not the time for those debates," he said. "Only when the healing is under way and we have begun tackling the security challenges we face will our nation be ready to focus again on other issues."
Dave Willett, a Sierra Club spokesman in Washington, said that with the attacks, environmental issues fell off the political radar screen.
"In the last few years, Americans have been very engaged in environmental issues in general," he said. "Right now, the American public are focused on recovering and on national-security issues, and the environment certainly isn't high on the agenda."
Environmental groups in Canada have also shelved some of their efforts, but the reasons are more pragmatic. With the terrorism crisis dominating the media, some groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, have cancelled events because they fear the activities wouldn't receive any coverage.
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