American Environmentalism, Part I
I want to talk about my latest publishing venture in this blog. For the first time in my career as an author, I am tying together my writing and my day job.
I have worked as an environmental affairs representative with Dart Container Corporation, a leading worldwide manufacturer of disposable foodservice products, since June 1992. From 1988 until 1992, I researched energy and environmental laws and regulations with the Southern States Energy Board, a nonprofit interstate compact organization located near Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, I have served on the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation Board of Directors since 1998. For environmentalists from the biocentrism school of thought, these affiliations place me squarely on the side of industrial interests in the anthropocentric school. I contend that I am an environmentalist at heart and that industrial and environmental interests need not be enemies, although I recognize that not everyone will agree with this arguably heretical declaration.
During my time working in the environmental field, I have been amazed at the growth of awareness and concern by average Americans for protecting and promoting the natural environment. Although this trend has been heartening, I have been disturbed by the false issues, misinformation, red herrings, and “greenwashing” claims that pass for competent, replicable, reliable data and analysis. The term “greenwashing” has become popular in recent years as a reference to messages promoting the environmental advantages of a commercial product that may not have advantages (or the touted advantages are meaningless in the context of the claim). In my experience, greenwashing abounds as consumers, industry representatives, environmentalists, legislators, regulators, and students grapple with what it means to protect the natural environment in the long run without hobbling economic growth and development in the short run, assuming these goals are mutually compatible.
As a representative of a plastics manufacturing company, I have been attacked over the years by a variety of environmentally conscious persons and organizations. In many cases, these people have been well-intentioned. Hearing a plethora of negative arguments against plastics and our “throwaway society,” I have endeavored to discover whether any of these attacks were merited or whether they were advanced by misinformed zealots seeking only to advance an ill-advised or cynical agenda. In some instances, the attackers have presented thoughtful, legitimate arguments supported by credible scientific data. All too often, however, the attacks have been based on emotion, conventional wisdom, and questionable research gleaned from patently biased parties. Greenwashing comes from all manner of sources sporting a variety of good and not-so-good intentions.
In defending both industrial interests and environmental considerations, I also have tried to make peace with my career choices. Am I part of the problem or part of the solution to effective environmental management? Can I set the record straight and find a path forward so that manufacturers can continue to provide employment and bolster the economy while also promoting sustainable environmental management and practices? I fear that too often parties positioned on both sides of the ideological divide argue over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Rather than debate whether disposable cups, which make up a fraction of the American municipal solid waste stream, can and should biodegrade in a modern, well-engineered landfill, would it not be preferable to focus attention on genuine, large-scale environmental problems involving systemic issues? Why not devote time, energy, and resources to understanding and resolving genuine, pressing environmental issues in lieu of following the well-worn path of bromides and histrionic doomsday claims about relatively minor, ancillary products and issues?
Let us be clear at the outset: Outrageous claims, silly misrepresentations, bogus arguments, and absurd contentions are bandied about by many parties on all sides of the debate — industrial spokespeople, elected representatives, unelected regulators, and self-proclaimed environmentalists working inside non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alike. No one has clean hands. In lieu of descending into the morass, I wondered if I might circumvent the silliness to explore the salient issues through a more focused, disciplined approach. Rather than engage in acrimonious debate over minutiae, as so often occurs in the context of “green” claims, I wanted to recast the debate.
Protecting the natural environment and promoting sustainability have become important objectives for U.S. policymakers and citizens. Achieving such goals is far easier said than done. A major difficulty arises owing to the range of diverse perspectives among participants in the ongoing debate about what constitutes protection of the natural environment and, for that matter, how the term “sustainability” should be defined.
I decided to write a book to clarify the salient issues by exploring the philosophical, historical, and political issues in American environmentalism.
The central question in the book is whether competing interests can be reconciled while developing consistent, coherent, effective public policy to regulate uses and protection of the natural environment and also allowing for continued industrial development and energy resource allocation. In short, can the anthropocentric perspective of neoclassical economists exist side-by-side with the biocentric perspective of ecological economists and other members of the environmental community? This is a complex question, with no easy answers. Accordingly, I want to assist readers in coming to terms with the range of possible solutions. Although other books delve into the philosophy of sustainability, the history of American environmentalism, or the politics of the environmental movement, my book, unlike competing works, will explore each of these issues in turn.
I began circulating a book proposal in the fall of 2011. On September 26, 2011, I contacted an editor at Routledge, a well-respected publisher of books on public policy and sustainability issues. In response to my email query, that same day the editor responded: “Dear Mike,” he wrote. “Thank you for your note and interest in publishing with Routledge. I’m away from my office right now and can’t give this a proper read but from a quick scan through your proposal I can say I’m tentatively interested in the project. I will definitely give this a closer read next week and be back in touch soon.”
I was enormously excited. With my first email inquiry, I had an editor “tentatively interested” in my proposal!
“Thanks for your note,” I responded the following day. “I realize that these things take time, so I will wait patiently. I appreciate your interest.”
Alas, it sounded too good to be true, and it was. The editor promised to “be back in touch soon,” but his definition of “soon” and mine were different. My definition was “within a month or two.” His definition was “never.”
On November 18, after waiting patiently for almost two months, I wrote him a short follow-up note. “I just want to touch base with you and see where we are on this project. I am not in a big hurry. I am just curious to see if you are still interested. Thanks so much.”
Perhaps I was too patient and wimpy. On December 18, I sent a second follow-up note: “As I wind up the year, I am trying to plan my writing activities for 2012. Can you tell me if you are still interested in this project? If so, great. I want to find out what they next step would be. If not, I want to approach another publisher. Anyway, please drop me a line when you can. Thanks. Happy Holidays!”
By the time the holidays ended and a new year commenced, I realized that no answer was tantamount to a “no” answer. I am very intuitive, as you can tell. It was time to search for another publisher. (As of this writing, the editor still has not contacted me following his initial email.)
On January 3, 2012, I sent a snail mail letter and proposal to Prometheus Books, another prestigious publisher that accepts manuscripts about environmental issues. Seventeen days later, the U.S. mail brought a form rejection letter wishing me the best of luck in my search for a suitable publisher.
Serendipity comes into play here. Shortly before I received the rejection letter from Prometheus, I received a mass email from Lara Zoble, an associate editor at CRC Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group. I had never heard of CRC Press, although I was familiar with Taylor & Francis. (Routledge, home of the non-responsive editor, is another Taylor & Francis imprint.)
“Dear Professors and Practitioners,” she wrote on January 17, “I am writing to introduce myself as the acquiring editor at CRC Press/Taylor & Francis for the public administration and public policy book list. I am currently accepting proposals for new titles. We have an excellent, growing product line of textbooks, reference books and handbooks for academics and practitioners, including two successful series.”
It was exactly the kind of email I wanted to receive!
“If you are currently working on a book and seeking a publisher, or are still at the conceptual stage, please email me expressing interest, and I will gladly send you our proposal questionnaire to follow up. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch now or later… as a prospective author, or even simply to express what kinds of titles you feel the market is currently lacking.”
On January 20, the day I received the Prometheus rejection letter, I dashed off an email. “Dear Ms. Zoble,” I wrote. “Your email serendipitously arrived on my desk. I recently prepared a book proposal titled “This Earth of Majesty”: Reflections on American Environmentalism about the philosophical, historical, and political issues involved in American environmentalism. Because the proposal involves a multidimensional, interdisciplinary approach, it can be evaluated from a number of perspectives, including public policy. I have enclosed a sample chapter as well as a current curriculum vitae along with the proposal. I would appreciate it if you would let me know if you are interested in this project. Moreover, please feel free to send me a proposal questionnaire. Thank you in advance for your assistance.”
Events moved very quickly. Ms. Zoble responded within hours: “Hi, Mike. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, and excellent proposal. (I don’t think our questionnaire would add anything.) I had a quick look and I enjoyed reading what you sent. This is very nicely written. As you say, it’s interdisciplinary. Let me return to this early next week. I’d like to discuss it with my committee, but I’ll try not to keep you waiting too long. Many thanks again. Have a nice weekend, Lara.”
I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth email exchanges except to say that 13 days after our initial correspondence, Ms. Zoble sent me this email: “I had the pleasure of presenting your proposal to my committee yesterday morning, and I am pleased to be able to offer you a publishing contract today. I’ve attached a draft contract for you to review. It’s pretty standard. Please do review it and let me know if you have any questions about the contract or anything else.”
The committee liked everything but the proposed title. After more back-and-forth discussion, we decided on a new title: American Environmentalism: Philosophy, History, and Public Policy.
We officially executed the contract on February 8, 2012, with a manuscript delivery due date of February 1, 2013.
Life is good!
Stay tuned as I research and write the book during 2012.