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Small "e" environmentalists
Jack Balshaw 10/9/2002

I've been feeling badly that I've used the term "environmentalist" generically when I criticize certain things, or the narrow positions some people take. Environmentalists have a broad view and look at the earth's whole needs, including the needs of those inhabitants who happen to be human. And they understand the need to balance those needs against one another.

I consider myself an environmentalist. We harvest food from nine fruit trees and six vegetable beds, we have both a kitchen and a garden compost heap, we use less than 20 gallons of gas a month, we don't run clean water down the sink through a garbage disposal to create sewerage where there was only clean water and kitchen waste. We come from a long line of string, bag and bottle savers so recycling is in our genes. Until last year we had a clothesline. That's all pretty environmentally friendly I think.

Accordingly, I can see where using the term "environmentalist" as a general term isn't appropriate when the intent is to discuss, question or argue about a small portion of the total environmental spectrum. I'm looking for another term to use. One that might be less inclusive.

Lately the term Progressive has been popping up more often. Petaluma's challenger for mayor notes the abundance of Progressives. Those in Sebastopol who want to protect the Laguna but oppose low cost housing have been designated Progressives. It's not clear to me whether "Progressive" is the identification of a particular movement or merely the umbrella beneath which groups with specific interests gather.

What I've come to notice is that those called Progressives tend to support limited or specific portions of the environmental agenda. What they choose to champion is usually commendable by itself, but by being selective often conflicts with other legitimate issues. The championing of the Laguna in Sebastopol against the need for affordable housing is a good example. Picking and choosing such issues is like the kid who picks and chooses what he will eat. He won't starve but he won't have a balanced diet either.

There are people who support transit but refuse to car pool (a la Sebastopol); who support keeping sewerage out of the Russian River but oppose a geysers solution; who support affordable housing but not here and not in those numbers and not now; who want to protect the idyllic area THEY moved to from others who would like to move here also; and on and on and in various combinations.

These are people who want to promote selective special interests but operate under the umbrella of more respectable broader environmental purposes.

We get confused when a public personage champions one or more "good" causes but neglects to tell us what things he will sacrifice to further those causes. We assume if he's for something we like he must be for everything we like. Not necessarily so.

The phenomenon of selecting only certain issues allows such Progressive leaders to champion those issues large portions of the public agree with, while avoiding taking a position on issues they might not agree with. If we want to view the earth as a closed system, we have the responsibility to do it in every issue.

Some type of growth initiates almost all environmental issues. Traffic congestion, water shortages, air quality, etc. are all products of growth. If the real target of most growth control is a cleaner or better environment, then there is a responsibility, in halting growth in one area, to indicate where, in the total system, the nation's, state's, county's increased population should be located. Elsewhere isn't a satisfactory answer.

The environment needs to be addressed as a system and not as an independent series of small negatives and small positives. This is my concern and why I usually disagree with the positions of what I call small "e" environmentalists.


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