I believe that the term “environmentalism” is ruining the original concept that this expression held. I believe it may be forming barriers between us, instead of breaking them down.
As a teenager, I embraced the environment and anything green. I cried for days when my parents removed a tree from our backyard. I rallied other high school students to ask for the chicken sandwich with the tinfoil, but without the paper basket. And in college, when my girl friend and I saw a logging truck bumping down the road, I explained to her the evils of logging.
Perhaps I have simply grown up, but those explosive feelings have grown up with me. Working one summer in the woods of Idaho, a colleague snidely remarked that as soon as people stop using toilet paper, then we could stop cutting down trees. Almost immediately this altered my frame of reference of what being a true environmentalist meant.
After many more years of study in the natural resource field, my views were shifted, but still held the same core values. I believe in protecting our earth, I believe in cherishing the wild things, I believe in reconciling human needs with those of the environment. But a recent work-related event has shifted my views once again.
I work as a hydrologist for a state organization in the desert Southwest. Part of my work is to protect our rivers against some of the ridiculous demands by the human race. But another part of my job is to ensure that the people of my state receive their basic human right—clean, safe, sustainable water. It is these conflicting needs that challenge my beliefs.
I was involved in a project that on first glance threatened a “free flowing river”, but in the long run would protect it much more than any attempt to stop this particular project would. I tried every day for over a year to get those “stubborn environmentalists” to see that we must do much more than simply keep this river free-flowing to truly protect it.
Over time, it became an “us against them” mentality, and somehow I was on the other side. How did this happen? I believe that it is because the term “environmentalist” has divided us and become something different, something the original pioneers did not intend. The leaders of the original movement saw that there were many places on this earth that needed outright protection from human endeavors. But they also saw that most places simply needed to be treated with respect. They believed that there were sensible ways to live on the land, without irreversibly harming it.
Now, I believe in championing this idea. That humans need to find a way to live in peace with our natural world, but this doesn’t necessarily mean not using our natural world. I believe that the more stubborn we become and draw our battle lines based on terms like “environmentalist”, the more harm we are undoubtedly doing to our collective home.
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