Sunday, January 30, 2011

Insider vs. outsider impact on environmental policy

Do insider or outsider strategies make a more substantive impact on environmental policy? In chapter 6 of The Politics of the Environment, author Neil Carter is hesitant to make any firm conclusions about the substantive impact of insider strategies, but does declare that outsider grassroots campaigns are seldom the deciding factor in the wider environmental policy arena (p.176). I believe pursuing insider strategies have had a mild sensitizing impact, but helped little to achieve material results. Significant pressure from grassroots campaigns and protest actions are required for environmental policy victories.

An insider strategy is one in which environmental lobbyists seek to influence policy decisions from the inside in consultation with government ministers. Carter (p.166) points out environmental groups have gotten only limited access, and where there is regular access this kind of strategy inherently involves compromise of values and playing by the rules of the game- basically dealing with the devil. Furthermore, access is only temporary and can be lost when the elected administration changes, ie. Clinton to Bush in 2000. Even where green parties have been part of the government, as in Germany, access was barely improved.

Institutionalization of environmental groups has certainly increased (p.148). Environmental values have been generally accepted as part of the political discourse. Environmental organizations have grown in membership and funding. Organizations like Friends of the Earth (p.152) have become more professional and centralized as well as shifted their strategy from direct confrontational actions toward more lobbying and monitoring. These advancements have led to an increased public awareness of environmental issues and helped shape political considerations of the environment.

However, the environmental lobby has largely failed to enact its proposed policy reforms as it runs up against very powerful corporate and producer interests. In the US, the environmental lobby never achieved ratification of greenhouse gas emissions controls sought by the Kyoto Protocol legislation1. Energy producers have a stronger insider-presence in most governments and often get their desired mining permits approved with waivers on environmental review2.

There are isolated incidences where insider strategies have helped block environmentally harmful development projects (167). But most environmental achievements are often in large part due to strong conventional grassroots campaigns and media attention from unconventional actions that exert considerable pressure on policy decisions. In the US, both pressure-group politics and swelling public opinion are credited for the enactment of the major pollution control bills of the 1970s 3. In Germany, popular anti-nuclear campaigns halted transport of nuclear waste and building of nuclear reactors4. A Greenpeace anti-whaling campaign that began in 1975 ultimately resulted in a moratorium on commercial whaling and creation of whale sanctuaries5. The insider environmental lobby probably had a facilitating role in these grassroots successes. But without strong pressure from outside mass social campaigns and attention-grabbing actions, insider environmental lobbying alone has exercised little influence.

~Mark Bremer, Green Explored Contributor


1 (accessed 1/24/11)

2 (accessed 1/24/11)

3 (accessed 1/24/11)

4 (accessed 1/24/11)

5 (accessed 1/24/11)


  1. I think you give too much credit for the 1986 zero quota on whales to Greenpeace. The ICRW simply found out that nations were grossly under-reporting whale kills and the only answer was to set a zero quota.

  2. Yeah, you're right. It is a big jump from Greenpeace protests to ban on whaling. I was just trying to point out that attention-grabbing public actions like the those in the anti-whaling campaign play a key role in shaping environmental policy. Thanks for the clarification.


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