Thursday, July 28, 2005

Who is an Environmentalist?

What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘environmentalist’? Do you see a young person in business attire, grandparents taking their charges to the park, or do you see an old, dusty, longhaired refugee from a Grateful Dead concert?

This image, this stereotype is crippling the real environmental movement, a movement that attempts to reverse the landslide this administration has us heading down. This falsehood is also why liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party must endeavor to restructure the image of the environmentalist.

On the blog ‘Daily Kos’ Marcos Moulitas quotes an article by David Sirota on just who can be called an environmentalist.

Markos Moulitas of the Daily Kos says:

“I've been saying "environmentalism" is a damaged brand, associated with too many people as "tree hugging" and "spotted owls", than in protecting our natural legacy.

But a new brand of Western Democrats have redefined the issue in terms that are actually advantageous to our party, and can help peel away a huge and solid GOP voting bloc.

Sirota explains:

‘In their overreaching, however, the Republicans are helping to redefine the political issue of the environment on vastly different terms - terms that are very advantageous to Democrats in Congress, if they follow Democrats in the states who are pressing the issue.

Out here in the Montana, for instance, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) has made the preservation of his state's hunting/fishing access laws a top priority. In Wyoming, Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) signed legislation giving citizens more leverage over oil and gas companies when those companies use their land. And in Colorado, Democratic legislators pushed legislation forcing oil and gas companies to pay up when they harm private property.

These are lessons for congressional Democrats looking to play offense in red-states in 2006, and at least some are already moving forward. For instance, Colorado Rep. Mark Udall (D) and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (D) have strong, pro-hunter legislation on the table. The more focus on these issues from Democrats, the better.’

Hunters and traditional environmentalists diverge in one key area -- the killing of furry creatures. But by forging such an alliance, environmentalists can sell 95 percent of their agenda to an important, influential bloc of voters otherwise turned off by both the Green movement and the Democratic Party in general.

As Mehlman and Co chip away at traditional Democratic blocs, we can't sit still without raiding enemy turf. If we get the outdoorsmen, we make the Republicans' job a hell of a lot more difficult.”

So, who is an environmentalist? Who indeed.

1. If you fill your diesel truck once a week for $60 and still don’t go very far from home; you could be an environmentalist.

2. If any of your children ever stuck a foreign object, like paint chips, into their mouths; you could be an environmentalist.

3. If you’ve ever went to the beach clamming one day but was sent home the next because of red tide; you could be an environmentalist.

4. If you’ve ever hiked into the woods with a hunting rifle and a map to the best place for a deer blind; you could be an environmentalist.

5. If you live near any of hundreds, if not thousands of this country’s chemical plants, drink the city water and breathe that air; you could be an environmentalist.

6. If you have ever gone whale watching; you could be an environmentalist.

7. If you have looked out over your city on a sunny July afternoon and decided against going out in the smog; you could be an environmentalist.

8. If you love watching those nature films about lemurs, meerkats, and the jungles of the Amazon; you could be an environmentalist.

9. If you have ever sat in awe of panoramic views of the mountains of Alaska, the deserts of New Mexico, or the rainforests in Washington State; you could be an environmentalist.

10. If you let your children play in your own backyard; you could be an environmentalist.

And finally, if you live by the ideals of our founding fathers, the words of Jesus Christ, or the lessons of your upbringing; you could be an environmentalist.

You see, any one of you could be an environmentalist. Anyone. You don’t have to be a vegan, a member of Greenpeace, or even a Liberal. All you have to be is a resident of the Planet Earth.

When we pour ourselves a glass of iced tea, we don’t piss in the water first. When we put our kids to bed we don’t stuff toxic chemicals under their mattresses. When we get up early on a crisp, spring morning, do we walk to the window for a deep breath of air but only after releasing billows of smoke from our fireplace?

There are few who would answer yes to these questions. People don’t want to live in a garbage dump, a toxic wasteland, or a festering pool of pollution. However, there are those who want others to live there.

NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard: an acronym for a tendency to keep hazardous conditions away from one’s living area, preferring to send them to someone else's.

No one wants to live next to a chemical plant or a nuclear power plant. If one of these industries were to buy out the land around your community, promise a few jobs and a few coins for the public good, would you still want them in your neighborhood? I doubt it.

Why? Simply put, it’s all about peace of mind. No one wants these plants near them because these industries cannot guarantee that the toxic materials they produce will never get into your home.

Examples abound proving this point. Names like Love Canal, Bhopal, and Three Mile Island only begin to illustrate how much damage has been done by these corporate barons and the minions of the chemical industry. They have shown time and again that they have little real concern for our welfare. Protecting people from the products and by-products of their companies is expensive, very expensive. They have determined, in corporate boardrooms and legislative chambers, that the cost of protecting the people’s environment inhibits the level of profit these men expect. This fact alone allows them the regulatory grace to do as they please, regardless of the consequences.

There was a time, late in the 19th and early 20th centuries when we had little regulation of pollution or ecological damage. Corporate profits were first on every priority list. But soon, their greed began to feed on itself and citizens saw fit to make the changes necessary to bring these robber barons back to Earth.

Before the laws were changed to protect us from their toxins, the chemical industry was one of the most profitable in America. They produced every kind of substance from phosphate detergents to make shirts whiter than white to the latest bug spray to get rid of the chiggers in your lawn. We accepted these products with glee because the slick ad campaigns knew exactly which buttons to push. We were convinced that these products were safe and wonderful and indispensable. No home should be without a can of DDT or a garage without a can of dioxin-laced paint thinner.

Reality presented its case in 1962 when a lonely biologist with a literary flair shattered their poisonous plans. Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ took these corporate goons to task. And she had allies. It is said that President Kennedy had every member of his cabinet read Ms. Carson’s book because it had such an impact on him. The industries that produced the toxins went to court to keep such information private but the people had already turned. They lost the battle but not the war. They have worked tirelessly for over 40 years to reverse the effect the environmental movement has had on their bottom line. They will continue to work incessantly to return to the good ol’ days of high profits and low regulation.

Will today’s public respond in the same way their parents or grandparents did in the 60’s and 70’s? Will we allow the government to capitulate to these corporations and weaken or curtail these regulations? From Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book ‘Crimes Against Nature’, the American people have been told time and again about the damage such greed brings.

But they haven’t gotten the whole message yet. The Right Wing and their cronies in the mainstream media have been clouding the issue like an oil slick for 40 years. There is a movement by the chemical industry to return to the pesticide DDT because, they claim, it would prevent disease throughout the developing world by killing malaria or West Nile virus bearing mosquitoes. They crank up the ad machines to snow the public into thinking that they are so concerned for the health and welfare of the poor and sick in the third world. Reality is that the chemical companies won’t be giving it away. What better way to ensure a fat payday than to provide these dangerous chemicals in the name of disease prevention and charge to whole bill to international relief agencies. This administration has gone on record defending this policy, probably because so many of the government’s ‘experts’ in the field are former lobbyists for these same industries. If the door is opened once again to the machinations of these corporate goons, the people of this country, and the world, will be worse for it.

Another environmental hazard that has been tossed around like an old shoe is global warming. Science has been forced to revisit, revise and re-evaluate every scientific argument that supports the theory of climate change. Yet, even in this extremely hostile setting, the data has withstood the onslaught. Thousands of climatologists, biologists, meteorologists, and environmental scientists have gathered on numerous occasions to emphasize the evidence supporting catastrophic climate change or global warming. Despite this, our intrepid government refuses to acknowledge it. Pres. Bush has yet to accept any evidence supporting global warming. In his little world, there is nothing to fear from allowing his friends in the corporate boardrooms run roughshod over our natural world. It is in our ‘national interest’ for the oil, gas and coal industries to make obscene profits with little or no regulation over the damage they cause our environment, at least in GOPland. Keeping our natural places (and ultimately, our citizens) healthy is secondary to the profit margins of companies like ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical.

The citizenry is confused by all of the rhetoric. They have been told time and again by the White House, the Pentagon and Fox News that there is nothing to the stories we keep hearing about global warming. Even when we see the national academies of science in 10 countries sign a report urging the world to acknowledge the depth of scholarship behind these theories, there are still those who would prefer to stick their heads firmly in the sand.

The Bush Administration is not doing this because they’re stupid. Far from it, they know exactly what they are doing and why. They see the potential for greater corporate profits and, through relaxed campaign financing, more money to get reelected. The power centers remain on Wall Street, K Street, and Pennsylvania Ave., instead of Main Street.

Where does that leave us? Who is left to turn back the toxic tide?

Look at the question at the beginning of this article. Who is an environmentalist?

When Rachel Carson published excerpts of ‘Silent Spring’ in the New Yorker magazine in 1962, the firestorm from the chemical industry was apocalyptic. But she had done good and sound research and had the temerity of a mongoose in her battles with these corporate goons, despite suffering from what would be terminal breast cancer. After her example, others filled the void. David McTaggart of Greenpeace, Denis Hayes and John McConnell of the first Earth Day, Vice President Al Gore’s ‘Earth in the Balance’ and many, many others have taken up the baton passed by Ms. Carson.

These are big names, famous and infamous right out of the headlines. But they are just the ones at the top of the list, a long list that includes legislators from every country, educators from every university or college, religious leaders, housewives, loggers, miners, cashiers, and school children the world over.

Everyone is an environmentalist. A logger wants the forest to survive, to thrive because it’s his livelihood, his recreation, his life. A miner wants the mines to be safe and sound. He cares deeply that the product of his labors doesn’t pollute the place he calls home. He wants to work for a responsible company that cares about his community as much as he does. Hunters and sportsmen know intimately the cost of pollution. They see it every time they enter the wild. Damage to the environment affects the game they seek, the length of the season of the hunt and the places they are allowed to go.

When the facts are presented honestly, there are few who would want a dirty world with their wealth. Frankly, wealth may keep the toxic wolf at bay for a while but not permanently. Because, despite the rantings of Bush and his ministers, everywhere is a backyard - our backyard.

Now, how do you answer the question?