Years ago, my father, who was a nuclear engineer at the Idaho National Nuclear Laboratory, went to Germany to consult with them on nuclear waste storage. During a tour of the facility, he asked them how they were able to get away with putting nuclear waste in abandoned salt mines. Didn’t the environmentalist organizations object? His guide answered, “Here in Germany we let the scientists make scientific decisions.”
A short and didactic answer to a simple question and yet, in the United States, we have continued to let political action groups dictate and influence scientific solutions based on emotion and politics rather than science to the point that it has severely impacted the ability of our nation to solve a diverse list of serious problems and provide for current and future resource needs.
In the 1960’s at the height of the Vietnam War, the abused and often drafted youth of a nation deep in the gore of an unpopular war, rebelled. Somewhere in the chaos that ensued and aided by the emergence of a new drug culture and sexual freedom, hippies and communes were born. To support those alternative communities, the Mother Earth News started to publish information to assist them in living a communal and agronomic life style that was at one with nature. Thus it was that environmentalism was born.
Combined with the establishment of groups like the Sierra Club, environmentalism’s beginnings became legitimized. The big hammer though, that brought the movement to into every American household was the media efforts of Sierra Club President, Walt Disney. Through his films, an entire generation was raised on films where logging (The Gnome Mobile), hunting (Bambi) and even Man himself (The Jungle Book) were portrayed as evil and where animals (The Lady and the Tramp & 101 Dalmatians) were shown to be the underdog good guys often with humans as the evil villains. Make no mistake, Disney’s films were political and influenced the attitudes of an entire generation. Thanks in part to Cruella De Vil, Hollywood no longer wears mink.
Concomitantly, ecologists studied food chains and nutrient cycles, while the environmentalists provided the push and organization to get things done. As a result, a lot of good has been accomplished. For example: Bald eagles have been freed from purposely poisoned food chains and now dot the skies in areas where they had been long forgotten. Harmful waste products are no longer openly dumped directly into the water supply. These, along with numerous other successes, have resulted in our environment becoming much healthier.
However, there is a less optimal side to environmentalism. Because it is so emotional and because it has become so politicized, the modern environmentalist movement has also hindered many advances to a modern scientific society. It is the same problem that always beleaguers good. You see; “All lofty ideologies when pushed beyond the boundaries of their innate value become not superfluous but evil undoing much of the good they have accomplished.” –waen-
It started with Jane Fonda and “The China Syndrome.” Because so little was known about nuclear energy at the time and because of latent emotions from World War II, nuclear energy was suspect. The environmentalist movement took advantage of that angst to spread false information and fear about nuclear energy. Subsequently, the United States lost an opportunity for wide spread, cheap and clean electricity. We now realize that nuclear energy is far cleaner and safer than the myriad of alternatives which we have been advocating for the past 40 years. Rather than use the technology that our country had developed for our own use, we ended up exporting it to France, Germany, Japan, Italy, etc. The reason was simply political capitulation to pressure applied by environmentalist groups. We were undone by our own political priorities. In this case the environmental movement shot itself in the foot. We now rely on more harmful and less efficient resources of electricity and have also lost some of our global economic edge.
A current issue which demonstrates this is the XL Pipeline. Most of the issues being raised against the pipeline are simple emotional pleas or just plain bad information. The other issues are easily worked out. I mean really, in this day of technological wonders and composite super materials can’t we build a pipeline that doesn’t leak if we decide we want to? Agreed, the pipeline isn’t the great economic boon that some would make it out to be, but it isn’t an ecological disaster either.
Electric cars are one of the biggest marketing hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American public. When I studied ecology (I admit that it has been awhile) the biggest threat to the environment was a battery. When you figure in that the metals for the car batteries are mined in Canada then shipped to England in diesel powered ships where the batteries are assembled and then again shipped by sea to Japan where the cars are assembled and then shipped once more by sea and by diesel power to the US and then charged with electricity from coal fired electrical plants, you can see that the environment has been taxed a lot more than it would have been if we had simply bought a 4 cylinder compact car that was built in the U.S. Then comes the disposal of the used battery packs and the purchase and installation of a new one every 80,000 miles or so. Like I said, a marketing piece of brilliance but not so helpful to the environment. The reason why the marketing has been so successful is because it plays to the emotional angst of the environmentalist movement. Simply put, we’ve been played.
There are other issues where environmentalism has harmed this country more than helped. Some of these include sustainable and renewable logging instead of letting the pine beetles destroy the trees. Cutting back on the use of paper products to save trees yet paper is not made from wild trees but rather from trees grown in tree farms. When we cut back in paper usage, they need fewer and therefore plant less trees in tree farms. Less paper actually means fewer trees. The reintroduction of grizzly bears and wolves have made the forests of the North West unsafe to enjoy and the wolves have decimated the elk populations destroying a lucrative tourism industry and what has been a historical food source. In so doing what have we actually gained? Very little as neither bears nor wolves were ever endangered on this continent.
Perhaps the most academic issue that shows how absolutely extreme environmentalism has become is the suppression, addition and rewriting of American Indian culture. American Indians were never environmentalist! They were opportunists. They were hungry and didn’t have the luxury of coddling the nature that surrounded them. They simply used it to exist.
The current damaging and biggest boondoggle of all? The California drought. With the spring runoff from the Sierra Nevadas, California has ample water even during the expected cyclic droughts. The real problem is that the environmentalist groups will not allow any new reservoirs to be constructed. Then they insist on letting the water out of the ones that are available. The water is there, it is just a matter of whether or not people matter as much as fish and flow. We need to let the scientists work on the problem, not the special interest groups and their politicians.
I have a minor in ecology and have spent the better part of my life tramping the hills, valleys, deserts and mountains of the great Rocky Mountain basins. I love our natural resources. I see man has having a God given stewardship and responsibility to conserve and wisely manage the resources with which we have blessed. Nevertheless, I also feel that the innate value of environmentalism has in many situations been pushed beyond the point of its intrinsic value and that, in some situations it has become more harmful than helpful.
To put it in perspective, environmentalism is the science of Disney and hippies; ecology however, is a real science. It is time to dissolve the partisan political issues surrounding our care of the environment and once again let scientists solve the nation’s scientific problems. We environmentalists need to funnel our efforts in a supportive role behind of the real science of ecology. We need to become wise stewards. We do not need to base our scientific answers and political projects on Disney’s nonsensical and whimsical magical world of talking deer and intelligent, man besting puppies.
Samuel Waen Jensen