For some environmental groups the route to power and funds is through compromise and negotiation. The willingness to make deals and accept trade-offs, and to tone down on the confrontation, allows entry or "access" to the decision-making process.
Those willing to compromise are more likely to achieve a result that they can claim is a victory. This victory gets media attention and the group can claim it is effective to its supporters and donors.
The early conservationists had been "primarily prosperous white men, a mixture of hikers, campers, mountain climbers, hunters, and fishermen who looked to the wilderness as a place of recreation" and were interested in wilderness preservation. They became part of the environmental movement when it emerged funding groups, lobbying and even becoming leaders. However they were much more at home with respectable and polite negotiation than militant activism.
In a desperate drive to win respectability and access in Washington, mainstream leaders politely pursued a course of accommodation and capitulation with elected officilas, regulators, and polluters... even in the face of irreversible degradations. These compromises have pushed a once-effective movement to the brink of irrelevance.
For example in 2007 Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did a deal with Texas Pacific, a large private equity group that was seeking to purchase energy giant TXU (now Luminant). TXU was under attack by environmentalists including EDF for its coal-fired power stations, and this had caused its share price to fall significantly.
A consortium including Texas Pacific saw this low share price as a good opportunity. William K. Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and employee of Texas Pacific negotiated a ceasefire with EDF in return for the cancellation of 8 out of 11 planned Texas power stations and increased spending on TXU's carbon emission reduction and energy efficiency. The cancelled eight power stations were not due to be built for a number of years.
In return EDF agreed not to campaign against the construction of the other three power stations, two of which will burn "the infamously dirty Texas lignite coal", leaving local environmental groups who were opposed to them without support. Moreover the deal was labelled as "greenwash" for the consortium of private equity firms, given that the planned plants were unlikely to be built in a future regulatory regime given increasing concerns about global warming.
For others the route to power is through involvement with government. Government is all about compromise and compromise worked well in the early days when there were few environmental regulations in place and little to lose but the gains made in this way are limited once those regulations are in place. In the US, for example:
Congress is far more willing to limit than to eliminate, more prone to regulate than to prohibit, more likely to moderate than to forbid the excesses of industrial prodution...
At the heart of the mainstream movement's folly is an abiding faith that legislation backed up by litigation will adequately protect the environmental health of the nation.
Moreover the more environmental groups are involved in negotiation and lobbying the more effort they devote to reform of the existing policy system and preventing reversals of legislative gains rather than mobilisation of people and creating and maintaining a social movement:
Growing in terms of staff and financial resources, the mainstream organizations were increasingly absorbed by the operation and maintenance of the policy system itself. A revolving door between staff positions in the mainstream groups and government and industry positions cemented those connections, while the groups' advocacy role, focussed especially in terms of crucial lobbying and lititgation functions, became more and more centered on keeping the system in tact.
In Australia in 1983 Prime Minister Bob Hawke instituted meetings between leaders of the peak environmental organisations and the environment minister, to be held three times a year. Groups involved were the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Wilderness Society (TWS), Greenpeace Australia and the state Conservation Councils.
Aynsley Kellow argues that for environmentalists to be incorporated into the policy process they must be willing to compromise and have faith that institutional reforms are both desirable and possible; “Unless the environmental movement in Australia can achieve this political maturity, it will remain tangential to the processes of social change in Australia...”
This is an attitude applauded by those who subscribe to the dominant paradigm. When ACF decided to continue working with the government on Sustainable Development despite the Government’s commitment to Resource Security, the Sydney Morning Herald editorialised:
...the ACF jumped the right way yesterday when it decided to stay with the task force. The alternative was to set a course that would have taken the ACF from the difficult world of negotiation and compromise and back to the relatively simple life of propagation and protest... the conservation movement must come to terms with complexities of the trade-offs confronting Federal and State Governments. The ACF’s decision to stay on the task force seems to recognise this.
Clearly those who subscribe to or are sympathetic to the dominant social paradigm, those on the light green end of the spectrum, are more likely to advocate getting involved with the existing power structure in order to bring about reforms and influence decisions. They view the current social system in Australia as satisfactory provided the government and industry can be persuaded to change some of their practices.