9 May 2012 – From Grist: I believe in climate change. I ride my bike everywhere, I work at a solar company, I buy organic and local when I can. I am young, liberal, and idealistic. But I’m not an environmentalist. And I’m not alone.

Over the past decade, the number of Americans who support the environmental movement has declined, with supporters increasingly split along partisan lines.

On the other hand, most Americans strongly support developing clean energy, believe that global warming is an important issue, and regularly engage in behaviours that are good for the environment. At least that’s what we’ve told the researchers.

Gallup recently found that 83 percent of Americans want more government support for clean energy. Yale and George Mason University researchers found that 72 percent of Americans believe that global warming should be a government priority.

And another Gallup poll found that three out of four Americans regularly engage in environmentally friendly behaviours.

Apparently, many Americans are aligned with the environmental movement’s goals. We just don’t align ourselves with the movement itself.

So what’s wrong with the environmental movement? According to its more morose critics (who include a few of its former leaders), it’s dead. In my mind, it just hasn’t changed to fit the times.

I am a child of the environmental movement, the granddaughter of avid hikers who helped protect wild spaces and the daughter of ecologically minded parents who taught me the Clean Air Act along with my ABCs.

So it is with all due respect that I would like to inform my elders that their brand of environmentalism simply isn’t working anymore.

The environmentalism of my grandparents’ generation was focused on preserving pristine wilderness, free from human interference.

For my parents, environmentalism was all about the legislative victories.

In the 21st century, with 7 billion people to clothe, feed, and shelter, there’s little environment left that we haven’t altered. We’re changing the natural world and we will continue to do so. When the trade-off is between survival and preserving the pristine, survival will always prevail.

Of course, if we continue to degrade natural habitat at our current rate, we’ll be down to half the species of plants and animals that we used to have, and that world would be hard for all of us to survive in.

And yet protecting wildlife is a hard argument to make in many of the pristine, undeveloped parts of the world where the local people live in poverty and rely on their natural resources to make ends meet.

At the same time, there are plenty of ways to survive in a more ecological manner. As I found out when I lived in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, environmental solutions catch on quick when they fit the needs of the local population.

The women in my village loved getting more efficient cookstoves, not because they saved trees but because they saved hours spent collecting wood.

This isn’t to say that we can’t and shouldn’t take care of wild spaces and creatures. But we need to recognize that often the best way to protect wild places is to take care of people in a way that leaves room for the wild as well.

There’s a reason that many environmental groups have found that the best way to stop poaching is to employ poachers as eco-tourism guides.

When we make the economics align so that survival equals protecting the environment, good things happen for people and planet. Read the full story