Apparently, I am a radical environmentalist. The journey from mild-mannered, average working class guy who loves the outdoors and believes in conservation to radical political revolutionary was a short one. A journey I wasn’t even aware I was taking.
I’m not quite sure when it happened but suddenly in the news, every political mention of environmentalist is now preceded by the adjective, “radical.” “We are the king daddy dogs when it comes to energy," presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann recently shouted out during a sound bite, “but the radical environmentalists have demanded that we lock up all our energy resources. President Bachmann will take that key out of the door. I will unlock it."
The crowd at the upscale retirement community cheered wildly. She wasn’t being a maverick, but like a good politician, was tapping into a cranked up propaganda machine. Control the language and you control the debate. Having already relegated the words socialism and liberal to the category of political profanity, the invisible string pullers now have set their sights on the environmental movement where they have found a convenient villain. High energy prices? Blame radical environmentalism. Rural economies floundering because of the collapse of mining, timber and cattle industries? Don’t blame globalization and Wall Street profiteering; blame radical environmentalists. Forest fires? It’s not climate change and human stupidity; it’s radical environmentalism. Midwest flooding? It’s those damn radical environmentalists muddling around with the dam release flows!”
Presidential candidates, US senators, state governors and even local town council members have all taken to the new mandatory adjective. Here in rural Arizona, a local rancher made headlines and fans when, in reference to Arizona’s wildfires this season, he shouted, "Did these radical environmentalists get a bill for the fire-fighting costs?”
Amazingly the campaign seems to be working. The most recent American Environmental Values Survey indicated that 93 percent of Americans love to be outdoors. 86 percent are concerned with environmental issues and 83 percent agreed that it is possible to have environmental protection and economic growth at the same time. The same survey, however, indicated only 44 percent of respondents would willingly label themselves environmentalists.
Part of this is the tree-huggers own fault. On a federal level the environmental movement had become synonymous with legal litigation, bureaucratic red tape and political obstruction. Everyone, it seems, has a story involving a simple project and the almost impossible to complete Environmental Impact Statement. Industry, likewise, likes to complain about red tape and endless suffocating regulations. All true to a point. But the end result--clean air, clean water, vast open spaces to play and a national park system that is the envy of the world--is more than worth the inconvenience. In fact, in some ways, the environmentalist movement has become a victim of its own success. Thanks in large part to the hippy, tree-hugging ecology movement of the sixties and seventies, America has (for the most part) a healthy, clean and beautiful environment that makes it all too easy to take for granted.
My niece just returned from a trip to China where she was horrified at the pollution and air quality. About as conservative as they come, she could not get over the wretched environmental conditions and, could not, for the life of her, figure out how people could put up with that much toxic pollution. Forget the temples, the gardens and the Great Wall, it was the smog that dominated both her memories and photographs.
President Bachmann might, indeed, dismantle the EPA. Most Americans, though, would not thank her for long.
Myself, I never considered myself a radical. I love the outdoors and have donated some of my time and money in protecting the places I love. I’ve opposed highways and developments purely for the selfish reason that they would shatter the quiet of places that I liked. Like most Americans, I love elbow room and open spaces. I want clean water to fish, large forests to hunt, wild trails to hike and free flowing rivers to canoe.
If that’s radical, sign me up for the revolution.