"Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of...

BOOKS BRIEF

April 16, 1995|By Susan Salter Reynolds | Susan Salter Reynolds,LA Times

"Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the 20th Century," by Mark Dowie. 317 pages. MIT Press . $25

This book could also be called "The Failure of Environmentalism at the Close of the 20th Century." But Dowie, frustrated by what he sees as the path to obsolescence charted by the top 10 national environmental groups, is far too hopeful and too invested to let go altogether.

"The nationals," he writes, "made two . . . near fatal blunders: one was to alienate and undermine the grass roots of its own movement; the other was to misread and underestimate the fury of its antagonists." What gives Dowie faith is that a "whole new cadre of social activists . . . will lead to a truly American political and social movement."

Dowie walks the reader through the evolution of environmentalism: from its ideological roots to the 1960s, "when poorer Americans realized that they were victims of environmental injustice," to the "counter-environmentalism" of the Reagan years, to an era of "amoral reform environmentalism." Only recently, Dowie sees signs of a "rejuvenated, angry, and decidedly impolite movement" fighting for the environment on "civil rights grounds," bringing stronger legal cases against toxic pollution, finally giving up a "federal strategy with an allegedly friendly administration."

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