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« Ultra-Eco Lifestyle | Main | Vernon Smith on Being Aspergery »

May 02, 2007

Many Different Eco-Crowds

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Donald's recent posting has got me thinking about eco-matters, as well as recalling time I've spent on the eco-fringes. I don't have a lot to add to the general global-warming discussion -- I'm completely unqualified to say much about it. To be completely honest, it strikes me as a dull topic that someone somewhere generated entirely for media-promotional reasons. Which, if I looked into it further, I might or might not respect.

But, having spent a lot of personal time exploring the eco-world, I do feel I have one much-more-general contribution to make. To do so, I'm cleaning up, knitting together, and reprinting here some comments that I dropped on Donald's posting:

One thing I'd add is that it's a goof to talk about environmentalists as though they're one big homogeneous group. They aren't.

I've spent bunches of time exploring the eco-world, and I can testify that eco-people and eco-orgs come in all kinds of flavors. There are people who really like ducks and trees lots better than humans, for instance. (I feel that way myself sometimes.) There are one-issue people -- people who are doing what they can to protect manatees, or coral, or local forests. (God bless 'em.) There are far-out radicals who want the midwest to be declared a grass-and-buffalo preserve, and who argue that we need to create nature-corridors to reconnect the "natural" parts of the country. (They make remarkably convincing arguments for this, IMHO. Plus I often simply like the bioregional eco-anarchy people a whole lot.) And there are people like Bjorn Lomborg, who's eco but realistic. (I think he's great too, if not the final word on anything.)

The Sierra Club / Gore squad is the most visible of the eco-worlds because they're the best-funded and most aggressively political part of the enviro world. But they aren't the entire eco-world by a long shot. Believe me, there are a lot of eco-people who despise or at least resent the "Inconvenient Truth" crowd.

Small -- but to me important -- point here: You can be eco and dislike the Sierra Club / Gore crowd. You can be Xtremely green -- as in 'way-beyond-Al-Gore green -- and not be obsessed by topics like recycling and / or global warming.

I personally buy most of the criticisms people make of the Gore-Sierra Club crowd -- that they're basically a bought-and-paid-for branch of the Democratic Party, and that they have sold out entirely to them. (You don't hear the Sierra Club talking much about population growth these days, do you? Guess why.) Which doesn't automatically mean that they aren't right about a few things ...

Speaking only for myself, I dislike the Gore / Sierra Club axis (while liking some of the individuals, of course) for being such determinedly political people.

Speaking for fringey ecopeople I've known who dislike the Sierra / Gore-ites more generally ... Their reasons tend to boil down to:

  • The "Inconvenient Truth" crowd is too political -- their impulse often comes more from a political drive than a love-of-nature drive.

  • They're so willing to sell out that it's as if they want to sell out. It's nice if California's diesels will be less obnoxious thanks to the Sierra Club, for instance. But why isn't the Club speaking up about population-growth madness? (Answer: a rich Democratic donor made a huge gift to the Sierra Club -- on the condition that they shut up about population and immigration matters. And besides, Dems like high immigration rates.) So: quieter diesels, but at the cost of tens of millions of new people doing damage to watertables, sprawling every which-where, etc.

  • They love government regulation above all things, and they trust the government sector 'way too much, mainly of course because they're political people. And political people like government, they just do -- when the fact is that government is often part of the problem.

  • They like and covet power. Which means in practical terms that they're bullies, even among and within the eco-world. Being politically-driven, self-important, government-lovin' assholes, they tend to usurp the public eco-discussion. Few other eco-orgs are thrilled by this. Earth First!ers would like other eco-topics to be on the public agenda, as would Earth Island Institute, as would the Planet Drum crowd.

In my experience, many of these other eco-folks feel that the Sierra Club / Gore-ites are domineering, self-righteous, dull, and lacking in genuine eco-feeling -- so much so that for some eco-folks the Sierra Club / Gore-ites are to be as mistrusted as business tycoons or grasping politicians. These people feel that the Sierra Club / Gore-ites are a part of the establishment, and that it's the establishment that's the real problem.

Speaking personally: At the same time that I dislike the "Inconvenient Truth" crowd, I'm very sympathetic to a lot of Green thinking generally, as well as to many of the more limited or just-plain-farther-out pockets of the eco world: to the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited (both of which, last time I checked, were doing a great job), to Earth First! (some EF!ers are smart and funny Yippie-style anarchists, which I think serves a useful social function, and which can also be a whole lot of rockin'-out fun), to the bioregionalism crowd (taking ecosystems into more account than we usually do seems very sensible to me), and to the whole Slow thang (quality over quantity, and people really, really need to take it easier, y'know?) ...

Let me supply a few green-ish links that the curious might enjoy exploring. For the punk-rockin', more-than-absurd, no-compromises eco-fringes:

Provocation can be good.

For some solid and responsible -- ie., realistic while not selling-out -- non-Sierra Club / non-Greenpeace outfits:

There are even some property-rightsy, free-market-toutin' enviro groups:

If righties have some worthwhile suggestions to offer, why turn 'em down?

And for remembering that the enjoyment of life is the basis for all of this:

Do take this list with a few grains of salt. 1) It's a personal selection, and 2) I'm more than a decade away from actual involvement in the eco-world, which means that I'm completely uninformed where current controversies, fashions, and reputations go.

But, as out-of-touch as I've become, I can guarantee my more general points: that there's a lot of variety in the eco-world; that some of the alternatives are solid and responsible; that others are exciting, extreme, and provocative in ways that I at least find valuable; and that the Sierra Club / Gore crowd doesn't represent any kind of absolute eco-consensus.



posted by Michael at May 2, 2007


You pretty much summed up my feelings. I live in Arizona, and there's no question the crazy amount of illegal traffic here has radically despoiled some of our most pristine deserts. But link immigration and the environment? Taboo!

But like all issues in America, it's a mess, and probably always will be. And that's OK in many ways.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on May 2, 2007 1:33 PM

Bravo! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Some of this information (though by no means all!) is new to me. It's well to remember that the great grandaddy of all eco-folk everywhere, Henry David Thoreau, was the opposite of a power-coveting politician.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on May 2, 2007 2:35 PM

Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy are big down here in the South. You want woods, we got 'em.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on May 2, 2007 2:57 PM

Mr Al Globe may be a pill, but he did invent the internet, you know.

Posted by: dearieme on May 2, 2007 5:29 PM

"There are even some property-rightsy, free-market-toutin' enviro groups."

Ya think? If you'd give it a moments thought, instead of going along with the knee jerk left is noble right is selfish meme, it makes perfect sense that property rightsers, who are almost always property owners, would be environmentally sensitive. A person who owns property cares for that property, husbands it. I own a couple of acres, small potatoes in the world of property. But of course I care for the health of the trees and the soil and the thousand and one things that have to be looked after to keep the place from running down. It's property owners, one by one, in their millions, who care for the world -- each one his little part of the world. Something the left will never understand, or, when it takes power, allow.

Posted by: ricpic on May 2, 2007 6:41 PM

Todd -- Mess can be good, that's a great way of putting one of the central lessons of ecology.

Lester -- You're pointing up one of the main reasons (it seems to me) that many eco-people dislike the Sierra/Gore axis -- it's that they're political at all. It's always seemed to me that many eco-people are who they are and like what they like in part as a way of getting away from politics.

Charlton -- Gotta love Ducks Unlimited, no? Hunters for conservation.

Dearieme -- We owe our politicians everything.

Ricpic -- Yeah, wouldn't it be nice if the political eco-people awoke to a little more in the way of basic economics than they have?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 2, 2007 11:14 PM

Perhaps. I think most lefties see property rights in the context of fighting corporations over land. I never got the enthusiasm for eminent domain myself.

Posted by: SFG on May 3, 2007 6:54 AM

Perhaps another reason why the Sierra Club crowd has gotten off of the population control bandwagon is that the predictions of the population doomsdayers (Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb) have been, to date, proven to be spectacularly wrong?

Just a thought.

Posted by: Kirk on May 3, 2007 7:36 AM


I'll take a look at your links and try to be open minded about it.

That's what friends are for, right?

The Karaoke Queen and I watched "Happy Feet" last night. It was funny and entertaining, and the animation was spectacular. It carried the environmental message, too.

I try to listen to all sides, although I am a cranky old fart.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on May 3, 2007 8:41 AM

Bravo Michael!

One thing impled but not said explicitly about the Gore- ites is that they are by and large RICH. (Those new cars cost).

I know personally the head of a "Green " company who owns three houses, one in a gated community, and is spending this year jetting around the world chasing his lost youth. He considers me a dangerous righty becaue of my distrust of government among other things, and complains about vehicles like my "SUV" (an '87 Jeep Cherokee).

(I live in a 4- room 100 year old house in a dirt- road village where I have lived for almost 30 years, garden and keep some food animals, hunt, buy most of my meat locally. But I am a gun nut and don't vote anybody's party line. Maybe a bit of a "Crunchy"? And that won't do.)

They also don't tend to know much about science and many don't spend time in nature (not true of the guy above to be fair). But trhat is another post...

Posted by: Steve Bodio on May 3, 2007 10:15 AM

SFG -- That seems shrewd. And most lefties ... well, they have their misgivings about "property" generally, no?

Kirk -- Could be. But the more immediate reason was the one rich guy's donation-with-springs, which caused a huge brouhaha within the Sierra Club -- for a few minutes it almost looked like the club might split in two. Hey, Paul Ehrlich is still busy. I don't really know much about him besides the bit about "The Population Bomb." Has he done any worthwhile work?

ST -- The way that eco concerns have been turned into sweet social-studies lessons for 7th graders is ... bizarre, or bewildering, or dismaying, or something, isn't it? I guess that, if there have to be messages, there could be worse ones. But why do there have to be messages? And, judging from youngsters I know, it seems that the ultimate effect is that any kid with any self-respect grows up to reject the the eco-thing because of the sanctimoniousness it was laid on with. Eco-thinking and eco approaches to things can be (IMHO, natch) harsh, exciting, philosophically stimulating, far-out, and can lead you into real encounters with science and the nature of things. All that "let's recycle so a baby penguin can have a nice life" stuff ... Yick. All the best to baby penguins, of course.

Steve -- That's a great tale about your bud, as well as a great point about the way class plays a role even in the eco world! This is just an impression on my part, but I sometimes think that some of the truest eco people are hunters. Fair, do you think?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 3, 2007 10:33 AM

It's probably irrelevant, Michael, but we watched the movie just because it was goofy fun. Filipinos have a strangely goofy, self-mocking sense of humor. (There I go making stereotypical statements about an entire racial group.) Filipinos just don't seem to take themselves as seriously as whites or blacks. They are small people, and this is reflected in their humor.

The Karaoke Queen sends me a daily barrage of kooky cartoons and videos by e-mail. They make me laugh, in a guilty sort of way, because I was raised to be so damned serious.

Myrna had this incredibly goofy sense of humor, a childlike sense of mischief and the dirtiest mind in the history of humanity. Now, that was something to behold.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on May 3, 2007 12:02 PM

Having taken what is likely to be better than two thirds of my life to finally become a property owner I've watched in awe as my neighbor (a local police officer) cut down every bit of vegetation on his two acres of paradise except for a 15 to 20 foot "fence" of vegetation. We're in a wetlands/bog area. He keeps dumping fill to minimize the bogginess. Of course, this has caused all kinds of drainage flow problems, not only for him, but me as being slightly downhill from him. And this is also despite newly enacted state laws protecting vernal pools. After five years, there is still no ground cover meaning the runoff is filled with silt, etc. Many of the local ponds and lakes around here are having all kinds of problems with algae blooms and fish die-offs due in large part to the excessive use of fertilizers on lawns and more runoff due to increased paving. But hey, at least for the couple of decades someone "owns" their land they've got something to mow on a Saturday. The hell with the grandkids, let'em find their own planet. And, for those counting, despite being pretty dang green, I aspire to become lower middle class someday, instead of upper working class.

Posted by: Chris White on May 3, 2007 1:43 PM

The hell with the grandkids, let'em find their own planet.

Well, if the Exxon Valdez drama showed us anything, it's no matter how big the disaster, the world will cover you over like you never happened. In a few generations, Chris, none of us will have had much of an impact.

It's a little concieted to think otherwise, don't you agree?

Posted by: Matt on May 3, 2007 5:19 PM

I'm with Chris White. Actions have consequences, even if those who act ignore or are oblivious to the consequences.

Generalizations, while convenient, are not a great idea, in my view--whether they are about righties, lefties, Sierra Club members, or any other group.

In my experience (I write about enviro and land issues for a magazine) a lot of the people doing the most important and successful work on pollution and other issues are focusing on narrow, complex, and mundane issues such as stormwater management and restoration ecology. Their politics and affiliations are variable.

Posted by: Linda on May 4, 2007 8:46 AM

But why isn't the Club speaking up about population-growth madness? (Answer: a rich Democratic donor made a huge gift to the Sierra Club -- on the condition that they shut up about population and immigration matters.

I don't see where immigration comes into this, since it doesn't cause any net population growth.

Posted by: Noumenon on May 7, 2007 9:00 AM

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