New Scientist magazine, Aug 28-Sept 3, 2004
When do you want it? now!
Chaining yourself to bulldozers and throwing paint over company executives
is more likely to influence environmental policy than schmoozing on Capitol
Hill. So says an analysis of the impact of the green movement in the US
between 1960 and 1994.
The study compares the number of bills passed by Congress with tactics
employed by green groups in the same year. Jon Agnone, a sociologist at the
University of Washington, Seattle, found that sit-ins, rallies and boycotts
were highly effective at forcing new environmental laws. Each protest
raised the number of pro-environment bills passed by 2.2 per cent. Neither
effort spent schmoozing politicians nor the state of public opinion made
But conventional politics does play a part. Environmental legislation is 75
per cent more likely to pass when Democrats control both houses of
Congress. And it gets a 200 per cent boost in congressional election years,
presumably because politicians see it as a vote winner.
Agnone, who presented his results on 17 August at the American Sociological
Association's meeting in San Francisco, says protest groups lose their edge
when they become part of the system. Their most effective weapon is
disruption. "If you make a big enough disturbance then people have to
recognise what you are doing."
This is no surprise, says John Passacantando, executive director of
Greenpeace USA. "We know that unless a politician feels real pressure, or a
chief executive senses a threat to his market, everything else is just talk."