Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Activists Target Republicans

I have frequently addressed efforts by Greenpeace to provide political support for the passage of legislation that would require high-risk chemical facilities to evaluate and implement IST techniques. For the most part those efforts have been targeted at getting their followers to apply political pressure to Democratic lawmakers to support such legislation. Now environmental activists probably have more pull in the offices of Democrats, but that must count as preaching to the choir. The latest effort, highlighted by a guest post on HuffingtonPost.com by Kristen Breitweiser, finally targets the politicians that are going to be necessary for passage of the legislation, the Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the two Democrats that joined Sen. Collins in sponsoring S 2996, the industry supported alternative legislation. If one (more probably 2) of the Republican Senators could be counted on to support HR 2868 in Committee and then on the floor of the Senate the bill could get passed this year. The question facing Greenpeace and their fellow environmental activists is how to convince these Senators to ‘defect’. In modern politics there are three ways to accomplish this, money, votes, or political persuasion. By ‘money’ I mean legal political contributions and I doubt that Greenpeace can outspend the chemical industry. The only Republican that is not from a solid conservative State is Sen. Brown and he’s not up for re-election this year, so that is an unlikely tactic to influence him. This leaves ‘political persuasion’ as the only real possible way to change one or more votes on this issue. Unfortunately modern political activist (on both sides of the various issues) have seemingly forgotten how to use this political tool. They stake out a hard line position and rail at their opponents for not accepting the inevitable. Political persuasion will never work that way. What is required for political persuasion to work is an understanding of two things; your position and your opponent’s position. First you must understand what you really need to accomplish; not want to accomplish but need to accomplish. Then you must understand the same thing about the person that you are trying to persuade. If what each of you needs is mutually incompatible, then persuasion is not possible. In this case I think (my opinion not theirs) that what Greenpeace needs is to significantly reduce the amount of toxic chemicals stored in and around major urban areas. What industry needs (and they are the opposition of Greenpeace, not the Republican Senators) is to continue to make a ‘reasonable’ profit in the production and sale of their products. In my mind the two needs are not necessarily incompatible. What Greenpeace and their allies need to understand is that since they are the ones seeking change they are the ones that will need to convince industry to come to the discussion. Since industry just needs to maintain the status quo they do not need to influence Greenpeace. So, until they achieve a significant political majority (not likely in the near term) Greenpeace is going to have to figure out how to sell the critical parts of their agenda to industry.

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