The Problem with Environmentalists

Reader Contribution by Staff
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I would describe myself as a committed environmentalist. It’s my passion and my work. I’ve covered our deepening environmental crisis as a journalist for 30 years and now I run magazines and Web sites dedicated to raising human awareness of environmental issues. My wife and I raise much of our own food on our little organic farm and we supply organic food to lots of other local families. Environmentalism is my passion, my career, my chief avocation.

I’ve watched the environmental “movement,” if you will, grow from a radical, tie-dyed clique into a mainstream global consensus. I don’t think we, as environmentalists, can take much credit for that however.

We have, for the last 30 years, been among society’s least effective leaders and least pleasurable companions. In his 2006 essay, “Beyond Hope,” Derrick Jensen claims that the most common words he hears spoken by environmentalists,everywhere,are “We’re fucked.”[1] He exaggerates, but he has a point.

Our attitudes reek of Puritanism. We are, often, dour, strict and humorless. We’re judgmental. Behind most of life’s simple pleasures we see unnecessary consumption, which we ridicule. Because humanity is responsible for environmental problems we are, ipso facto, all sinners and we find little joy in being human. We portray the giant global corporations as occult covens, and we burn their representatives in effigy in our own reenactments of the Salem witch trials. When our neighbors seem too moderate or abstract for our tastes — as the Quakers did to New England’s 17th-century Puritans — we whip them out of the colony, at least figuratively, and we’re not above discussing executions. (The Puritan authorities hanged four Quakers for their religious beliefs in Boston between 1659 and 1661.)

To say the least, we’re no fun a lot of the time.

Maybe that explains why we’ve accomplished so little in the past 30 years. After all, we were right all along. Why has it taken popular opinion so long to catch up?

Well, for one thing, no one follows a pessimist. We’ve spent far too much time confessing our sins and assigning our scarlet letters. We’ve invested far too little time visualizing successful outcomes.

[1] Jensen, Derrick. Beyond Hope.May/June 2006 issue of Orion magazine. Excerpted from Endgame, published in June 2006 by Seven Stories Press.