In a recent post at Intelligent Discontent, I read another in a long line of litanies from a member of the blogging community lambasting a Missoulian op-ed writer’s lament about the state of environmentalism. Or environmentalism in the state. Whatever. I could link to the blogger’s post, but why?
I may have linked to an incorrect op-ed, and if so then I apologize to the unnamed and unlinked blogger. In that post, said blogger attacked the alleged op-ed writer and his opinions about what constitutes a “real” vs. “pseudo” environmentalist. And by doing so, the blogger attempts to create his own version of proper behavior within the “environmental community” (as if there is any such contrivance).
It’s a neat rhetorical flourish, being able to simultaneously call out a writer for failing to engage in “substantive debate” while failing to name the writer, or groups he is suspect of categorizing into his neat environmental subsets. Of course, maybe there is more than a mere debate about policy going on. After all, the suspected op-ed writer also is a substitute teacher and judge for Montana state high school debate championships.
Bingo! I think we may have a bit of a personal and/or professional issue creeping into the mere discussion of environmentalism. Nothing more competitive than a little controversy over debate in the state, particularly between judges and coaches! Of course, I could be wrong, and said blogger could be referring to some other enviro. In any case, it is hard to get to the heart of the policy issue in any environmental debate, when the goal is to beat the other debate team, regardless of the meat of the issue. The goal of debating is to win, not to discern the best policy. Just like politics.
The blogger goes on to rattle his usual prattle about compromise and purism. I guess having principles and being an environmentalist should be mutually exclusive features, or some such. Nevermind that many environmentalists believe that a principled position is a good place to begin a policy debate. After all, if a debater walks into a debate already having compromised away half of whatever he’s debating for, he’s doing the work of the opposing team. Not a very good debating strategy if you ask me. And a losing one.
And I’ve never met an “environmentalist” who didn’t believe that upholding current law or a federal regulation wasn’t a good thing. If one observes the federal government not policing environmental law or regulations, is it good policy to let the illegalities continue in the spirit of compromise or collaboration? I think that any good debater could say that we are either a country that abides by the rule of law, or we are tending towards lawlessness. To suggest that laws and regulations be selectively enforced, or partially upheld is to invite anarchy into the debate over environmentalism. Is that good for the environment?
The blog post continues on with references to the necessity of passionate activists’ “extreme” views. Hmmm… is it extreme to want to protect the status quo? After all, some “radical” activists have taken the position that our roadless wild lands are very nice the way they are, and don’t need to be changed or “managed” for multiple (industrial) uses. Many of us take the principled stand that current roadless lands in Montana and the region should remain roadless. This is the conservative approach. Actually, a radical approach would be to convert wilderness into tree farms through clearcutting.
The blogger also weighed in on the proper way to “protect a piece of land from development.” While many environmentalists are able to simultaneously have a principled position about preserving the status quo of roadless lands and using traditional techniques such as coalition building, activism, and outreach to government and industry entities, it appears that others are only interested in “extreme” views as a benchmark of a position to be avoided and compromised away from.
Heck, even the Alliance for the Wild Rockies built a coalition of well over a hundred small, local grassroots nonprofit environmental organizations with thousands of supporters to advocate maintaining roadless lands in their current state. And that coalition and support generated N.R.E.P.A., which does little more than codify the current state of roadless lands in the northern Rockies as Wilderness. Oh, and it currently is a piece of legislation in Congress meant to stake out the
“principled”, er, extreme position of thinking that maybe the more designated wilderness we have, the better the planet can survive through the next major extinction event that industrialization and population pressure is causing.
I wonder where the policy debate really lies here? To those who take a principled stand that we need to preserve as much wilderness and roadless lands as we can — in the face of a burgeoning population and resource extraction pressures — it only makes sense to adopt a policy that will protect these lands, and the species that depend on them. Or maybe it only makes sense to people to have and understand what a principled position on wilderness and biodiversity is.
I think that the blogger in question has confused what a policy debate is with what a political debate is. Many environmentalists (some will label them “radical” or “extreme”) understand what kind of policy is appropriate in a given situation, and approach the debate with a solid sense of that’s what they’ll advocate and fight for. Other environmentalists enter the debate with a nod towards politics, and let that guide the debate over policy. But this is only for instances where the policy is unsettled.
Fortunately, we have a broad base of settled environmental law and policies. It isn’t all-inclusive, nor does it necessarily accomplish certain goals (has the Clean Air Act solved carbon dioxide pollution and its associated atmospheric changes?). And it could be improved. But it isn’t a policy debate to force the government and industry to follow the law. And it isn’t a political debate about how the law is implemented by federal agencies. Politicians may try to make it such, but fortunately we have courts to weigh the legality or the issues and laws to allow citizens to intervene. And courts aren’t (or shouldn’t be) swayed by emotions or principles. They rule based on facts, laws and actions.
So I wonder about how the blogger can advocate to have policy fights and disagreements on “the best way to implement change.” After all, many of us “environmentalists” are not advocating change in some issues like roadless protection or existing law. As to roadless protection we are more preservationists than environmentalists. And if we look globally at what is happening with species extinction and dwindling population numbers of key indicator species, the goal is to preserve biodiversity, and that is done by limiting change induced by industrial society, not by “implementing change.”
Oftentimes in the environmental debate, the best policy is the most conservative one, and it is to protect the status quo. And to deviate from that means that it is ok to watch wilderness and biodiversity dwindle away until it is no longer meaningful and vital to the ecosystem in which we all live. Why would a moral, ethical and principled person who believes in the preservation of the wild say that it is ok to destroy a little bit of it? Is it ok to only steal a little? To be only a little violent? To only lie a bit?
Principles are tough things to have, and even tougher to live by. But when you compromise your principles in this arena, you really have no principles at all. You have politics and all of its amorality. Aldo Leopold said that very well in his well known land ethic:
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
As does Thoreau’s dictum:
“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.”
Need I go any further?