Environmentalism isn’t what it used to be. Its tenets used to be clear. When you said that you were an environmentalist, everyone knew what you meant. Now, it has become more complicated and awash in biases and fallacies that have muddied its principles.
Environmentalism of Old
Back in the day, environmentalism meant saving the planet and protecting it from the ravages of humans. Unless your head is totally in the sand, you must agreed that humans have not always been kind. Hence, the need exists for reining in some actions.
Preservation of the Earth and its resources remained the true cause. But things started to shift. I noticed this when I volunteered at a national park. At the time, I worked with the US Forest Service. While you’d think the two agencies have similar purposes, the line between the two exists like a squiggle drawn by a big fat permanent marker.
The National Park Service is all about preservation. The Forest Service recognizes sustainable use. While the former would keep people out of certain areas for preservation reasons, the latter accepts the fact that forests and logging can exist together.
Realistic Views about Nature
The differences between the two agencies mirror the current struggle that exists today. Environmentalism seeks do define itself in today’s world. Keith Kloor describes the philosophical battle in his piece in Issues.
I grew up in my conservation career following the path of preservation. Later, my philosophy morphed more akin to the view of the US Forest Service, albeit, with a few caveats. I wish preservation were possible, but now I realize that is an idealistic dream of a college freshman.
No one talks about environmentalism anymore because it’s become a world of issues. Environmentalism isn’t environmentalism. It is climate change. It is mass extinction. It is drought and floods and hurricanes. We don’t talk about the environment; we talks about our pet cause(s).
Complications of Environmentalism
And as if that weren’t enough, environmentalism is intertwined with social issues. No matter where you stand on the philosophical debate, environmentalism and conservation include humans whether you want them in the mix or not.
Climate change isn’t just climate change. It’s rising oceans, flooding, loss of coastal wetlands, displacement of people, and more fires that affect more people.
It gets even more complicated when you talk about renewable energy. Wind power produces no greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, but what about the birds and bats the wind turbines kill? Or what about the catastrophic environmental destruction that happens when getting the raw materials to manufacture the equipment?
Or how about solar power plants and their effects on the bird populations? Or even more compelling, why do bans on nuclear energy still exist when it too produces no GHG emissions and is miles more efficient than solar and wind? Or why use precious agricultural land to produce biofuels when they still give off carbon emissions? It’s not the same game anymore.
The main point to understand comes from this quote by Robert Ingersoll.
“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.”