EPE Week: Anna Williams on Why I am NOT an Environmentalist

My name is Anna Williams.  I’m an independent evaluator based in Seattle, Washington.  I evaluate global societal challenges.

I would like to have reason to unlearn a lesson.

How many of you tune out when you hear the word “environment”?  If you are a self-described “environmentalist” do you see eyes glaze over when you use this word?


Be honest.

I experience about 90 percent “glazage.”


I postulate that even progressives poorly understand environmentalism, and that environmentalism is anything but homogeneous.  Like with religious extremism, the behaviors of a few do not represent the many, nor should they.

Nonetheless, preconceptions and barriers are real.  Environmentalists are anti-progress and anti-prosperity.  They don’t “get” socially or economically driven work. They speak a different language.  Environmental evaluators are no different.


I hope I’m wrong…

Billions of people who are least responsible for – and are most vulnerable to – global problems like overfishing and lack of clean water, are taking the brunt of global environmental (societal) problems.  Water is the future gold, though food security will compete.  These are humanitarian concerns, driven by compassion for people, not to mention countless other species.

Do you perceive walls between environmental evaluators and other evaluators?

Do eyes glaze over when the word is spoken?

Are environmental sessions at the AEA’s annual conference well attended?

At a conference I recently attended in Kathmandu on evaluation for development in South Asia there was serious “glazage.”  Evaluators in Indonesia, India, and elsewhere painfully described the challenge of conveying the relevance of their work on climate change and other “environmental” issues.

Yet not only are our hearts in the same place, but as evaluators we use the same methods and face the same challenges.  We can and should help each other.

Some of us are, though to get there I stripped “environmental” from my title. I don’t mention it when I meet people, and I hope that the word’s appearance in my degrees will not be held against me, even though I believe that, if disclosed, it will be.

Modern environmentalism started as conservationism, which in this country used to be a bipartisan issue (root word = conservative!), but long before we deeply understood that conservation was fundamental to our survival.

I hope this false dichotomy between “environmental” and “social” will fade once more and those of us in the closet can come out unapologetically and without consequence.

Rad Resources:

More public health and humanitarian organizations – and evaluators – are connecting the dots.  Here are a few rad resources along these lines:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Environmental Program Evaluation Week with our colleagues in AEA’s Environmental Program Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EPE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


3 thoughts on “EPE Week: Anna Williams on Why I am NOT an Environmentalist”

  1. Hello Anna,

    Unfortunately your point is still valid today (2015) as it was when you posted. It is unfortunate that creating proactive programs are an uphill battle. It is difficult to persuade people to consider the implications of the environmental pressures we all are guilty of contributing to. But so too was the difficultly of educating people to consider positive lifestyle changes to avoid negative repercussions such as ill health or death. Perhaps a similar technique could be employed to increase awareness of the impacts of depleting our natural resources. Thank you for your post.


  2. Anna,

    I enjoyed your post today. I suspect that the glazage you describe is many people expect to hear about the environmental consequences of their behavior and don’t want to hear about it. I get similar glazage when people hear I evaluate alcohol and other drug treatment programs. Keep up the good work.


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