Department of English

Fall 2011 Edition

The Environmental Movement: Is It in Good Hands?

Jack Shumway
Argumentative 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Eric Morrow

Imagine America’s greatest cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, submerged under the ocean. This and several other tragedies are the potential consequences of global warming and people not embracing the environmental movement. Because of these disastrous consequences of inaction, environmental writers and other advocates of nature are charged with a very important task as they attempt to persuade society to take action. Are they holding up to this monumental task? Is the earth’s future in good shape? Is the environmental movement in good hands? These questions can be answered by evaluating the effectiveness of several examples of pro-environmental publications. If these publications are to accomplish the task of persuading an audience to support the environmental movement, they must contain some key components. These components include the ability to appeal to the audience logically and emotionally, as well as the ability to entertain the audience. Based on these criteria, the environmental movement seems to be in good shape because environmental supporters have consistently provided good information, made the movement very personal, and captivated readers with unique methods.

A key component that a critical reader or viewer looks for in an argument is relevant and supported facts. This holds true with critics of the environmental movement. Fortunately, advocates of the environmental movement have effectively employed statistics, case studies, and other factual resources in their persuasive pieces. Paul Hawken effectively uses facts to persuade readers several times throughout his book “The Ecology of Commerce.” The third chapter of this book examines in some detail the problems associated with consumption and waste production. In this chapter several statistics are used to further this point. Such examples include the fact that every American consumes 136 pounds of goods a week, that the world uses 4.1 billion pounds of pesticides a year, and that the top 50 products of the chemical industry generate 539 billion pounds of toxins a year (37). Many people don’t realize the severity of environmental issues, but when they hear numbers in the billions, an issue becomes hard to ignore. Quantifying these problems really puts the urgency of the environmental movement into perspective. As a result, statistics like these are very alarming to most people, and as a result of their use, the environmental movement has gained some leverage. Alan Weisman, in his essay “Polymers are Forever,” also uses factual evidence very effectively. This essay, which chronicles the growing problem of plastic use, discusses several studies that have been done to measure the amount of plastic in the ocean. One such study involved a contraption that, as it was pulled behind boats, sifted out small pieces of plastic for analysis (114-15). The use of studies like this one explains to readers the source of concern for environmentalists. Many people doubt the reliability of environmental researchers’ studies. By guiding an audience through the process by which researchers come to their conclusions, environmental writers leave little room for doubting information. By exposing readers to these factual examples, those supporting environmentalism take others to the source of concern, and effectively appeal to them using logic.

Perhaps equally important as logical appeal in creating an effective argument is emotional appeal. Emotional appeal is very prevalent throughout works supporting the environmental movement. The documentary series “The Planet” has a very strong emotional appeal. One of its most memorable uses of emotion deals with the fact that the electronic waste of western society is dumped on the helpless people of third world countries. The video showed mounds of used and useless electronics encumbering the people of Nigeria, as sad music played in the background to accentuate the problem (“The Planet”). This example made the problem seem very personal and left a feeling of guilt in the viewer, which made this emotional appeal very effective. Anyone who has ever disposed of a TV, radio, computer, or other electronic device was left feeling as though they had directly inflicted trouble upon these unfortunate people.

Banksy, in his image titled “Save or Delete Jungle Book,” also very effectively put emotion to work. In this advertisement for the environmental group Greenpeace, Banksy portrayed the cartoon characters from the movie The Jungle Book lined up for execution in front of a clear cut forest (Banksy). Because most people associate these animated characters with innocence and their childhood, it is difficult for this image not to elicit an emotional response. This emotional response for many may be a pang of guilt, or a sense of anger, either of which lead to a desire to act in support of the environmental movement. Environmental problems lead to very personal, and therefore emotional, consequences. Environmental authors realize this connection and seem to have successfully exploited it to their advantage by bringing the problems of the environment to life.

While factual evidence and an appeal to emotion are important, they are useless if an argument does not garner the reader’s interest. This is why a piece of literature must entertain. While many would immediately discount the environmental movement as bland, it is actually surprisingly captivating. An ideal example of an entertaining environmental piece is T.C. Boyle’s “Carnal Knowledge.” This fictional short story follows a man as he is prompted to join the environmental movement by a beautiful girl he meets on the beach. This story relies heavily on satire and humor, as it tells about this man getting beat down at an environmental protest and getting trampled over by the turkeys he attempts to liberate (Boyle). By using these humorous methods, Boyle effectively holds the attention of the reader, while touching on some important topics.

Other environmental publications hold the audience’s attention because they are relevant to the reader’s life. This is the case with many environmental blogs. One such blog discussed the benefits of electric and other “green” cars (Autoblog). Because of current high fuel prices, this article is very attractive to both environmentalists and those who are less concerned about the planet. Whether it’s through alternative energy, a polluted community stream, or severe weather patterns caused by global warming, every person is affected by environmental issues. Because everyone has a stake in the environmental movement, people have a tendency to be interested in environmental publications.

By using this ability to gain a reader’s interest, coupled with the ability to provide relevant facts and emotional examples, environmental composers seem to have effectively argued in support of nature. Through the effectiveness of environmental books, essays, films, and other sources, it seems that the environmental movement is in good hands. While it may be limited, there is evidence, such as improvements in government policy and business practices, to show that environmental advocates have had some success already. However, there is still much need for improvement, and it seems that environmental supporters have the potential to make these much needed adjustments to the views of society.

Works Cited
Autoblog. AutoblogGreen. AOL, 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2011.
Banksy. Save or Delete Jungle Book. 2001. The Guardian. Web. 28 Sept. 2011.
Boyle, T.C. “Carnal Knowledge.” Stories. London: Penguin Books, 1999. 53-68. Print.
Hawken, Paul. The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.
The Planet. Dir. Michael Stenberg, Johan Soderberg, Linus Torell. Perf. Tony Blair, Helmut Kohl. Svensk Filmindustri, 2006. DVD.
Weisman, Alan. “Polymers are Forever.” The World Without Us. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. 112-28. Print.