Rachel S. Gross recently reviewed Jeffrey K. Stine's Green Persuasion: Advertising, Voluntarism, and America's Public Lands (Smithsonian 2021) for H-Environment. Gross writes:
Stine faces a challenge in that his book is an analysis of a government program that in the author’s own assessment was ultimately ineffectual and unimportant. In addition to showing the program’s lack of effectiveness, Stine also makes the case for why such an analysis is necessary. For Stine, the office was a failure but a revealing one, in that its longevity reveals a political history of conservative approach to environmental (lack of) action. Namely, Take Pride in America and the agenda of voluntarism it pushed via a succession of Republican administrations reflect a partisan divide on environmental policy, where conservatives aimed to deflect attention away from how they underfunded federal land agencies.
The book is most successful in revealing the links between professional advertisers, mostly in the Ad Council, and the tactics for promotion in the Take Pride initiative, namely, the puppet/mascot era and then the celebrity era. These are fun, often visually focused, analyses of who became the faces of voluntarism and what exactly they were pushing. The message, whether it was Smokey Bear or Clint Eastwood speaking, was personal responsibility. The goal was to create a “bad guy” to distract from underfunding. Take Pride was ultimately innocuous and had little impact because it was always designed to be a simple PR campaign, a distraction. Stine’s title, Green Persuasion, points to how the program was a kind of greenwashing, hand-waving effort at assuaging public concern, a “public relations cover for its efforts to advance economic development on public lands and to reduce federal environmental protections” (p. 119).