A lot of people of a certain stripe working in environmental organizations – let’s call them, say, goodwill institutionalists – organize their approach to environmental activism around a believe that it matters how decision makers care about the environment. They believe in socialization or ‘training’ in the sense of training government officials or perhaps decision makers in business to think environmentally.

It implies a subject of will – “political will” for instance as is often battered about in public discourse as the “cause” for insufficient action – whose goodwill inclines the person to make ethical choices in the form of difficult/costly decisions. Such will is expected to hold the line on short-term gain.

This approach dovetails with what Larry Lohmann sardonically calls ‘the most naive environmentalism’ duped so easily by – and allied so often with – the most cynical market gamers. It’s not exactly liberal environmentalism, although the two no doubt overlap considerably. For instance, this absolutely does not apply to strategies of WRI or NRDC.

The emphasis on will derives from a structured understanding of how decision-making works – short-term gain is naturally powerful but people are social creatures and norms wrought in socialization can be powerful. It also hinges on a particular understanding of how organizations work – training ensues in order to demonstrate work procedures, which are basically bureaucratic (and hence mundane) but in the office milieu operate to ensure values are included in specific ways. Bureaucratic black holes like hallway interactions, country clubs, smoke-filled rooms and the like constitute a dark terror to the bureaucratic imagination.

Whether or not these people’s descriptions of the world hold water is one question. But before we ever get there, we can note that these subjects of will imagine the world in such a way that they are able to perform their own existence – in their goodness holding the line against short terms gain. So they willfully toil against all odds at the center of a mundane bureaucratic apparatus, stricken with terror that somewhere, in some bright casual interaction, the important decisions are being made without them.

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