The great paradigm of Western culture Ė "We are right, all others are wrong" Ė lends itself to no better debate than that concerning the natural world.
It brings to mind early contact with missionaries in the so-called New World. After the nutshell version of salvation was expressed to indigenous peoples, almost invariably the natives said, "Man, thatís the coolest thing, you guys are so lucky to have a religion so cool, but we like ours just fine, thanks, have a great day." Western philosophy, as always, was, "Weíre right, youíre wrong," and thatís when all the trouble started.
I sit back and listen to the environmental debates and one side tends to paint the other with broad strokes, but thatís the way of Westerners. Categorizing and generalizing and labeling. To the one, environmentalists are Greenpeace kooks who throw themselves in front of bulldozers and chain themselves to trees with copies of Al Goreís book. This is the picture they have created for the general public in order to espouse their agendas, and the media has bought into it because it sells a lot more papers and air-time than reasonable, intelligent people calmly making a case against coastal erosion, habitat loss and chemical contamination. The paradigm hasnít changed in 500 years: Theyíre right, everyone else is wrong.
Itís sad to bring up the image from those old television commercials of the Indian on the horse walking along the side of the highway crying tears over the litter. Silly nonsense that did more damage to cause than good. But I canít be who I am anywhere else than right here, and by right here I mean this earth, these waters, this air, that sky.
Certainly itís clear that people who live their entire lives on concrete cannot understand this. I am perpetually stunned and amused by people who leave their homes to walk on concrete to their cars, drive on concrete to their jobs and walk inside on concrete but claim to know policy and correct stewardship of the natural world. People whose ideas of "getting away from it all" is driving through a park or visiting a wildlife refuge from the safety of a tour bus. Such people would as soon concrete the entire continent and reap the rewards of an industrialized stockholderís efforts.
My visit to Montana last summer was a time in what many would call "untamed" country, but what I call unspoiled. Untainted. Thereís isnít enough concrete in Montana, really, to foster the "weíre right, everyone else is wrong" attitude about the environment.
The thing is, I canít be who I am anywhere else but here, and "here" does not mean concrete and gravel and steel. And what we rail against is the notion that anyone else can decide for us what we need. That anyone else can choose what to do with our world. From skyscrapers in the city people decide if our land and water and sky can be sacrificed and those of us who live on it and with it have no say.
So letís look at the entire environmental issue in a different light. Itís not about diverting a highway project because of a tiny fish in a half-acre pond. Thatís the stuff that gets the media attention because the anti-environmentalists want to make buffoons out of anybody who spends a little part of their lives off the concrete. Donít fall for that kind of tomfoolery. Weíre not all running around like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling. I am saying, however, that I canít be who I am anywhere else than on these lands and these waters. Certainly not on concrete and steel.
What itís all about is simply this: It doesnít matter if global warming is a man-made catastrophe or a natural cycle of the weather; there shouldnít be a debate over removing the grizzly from the endangered species list; there shouldnít be a question over restoring the coastline, and there shouldnít be a meeting in a skyscraper deciding it. Nobody should have decided to take our coastline from us or our kids, or our shell reefs sold to Lake Charles Dredging, or our basin filled with sediment. Can they give any of them back to us? Probably not. But they act like thereís no room for both of us: Their capitalism and our stewardship. Itís their way, or no way.
There needs to be some moderation. Is it okay to take the grizzly off the endangered species list? Probably, but whatís the harm in leaving it there? Nothing. Is it okay to drill for oil in the Alaskan refuge? With current technology that leaves little impact on the environment, probably so. Itís not like it was a half century ago when drilling for oil destroyed the landscape. Is it okay to put liquefied natural gas terminals off the coast of Louisiana? Certainly, if they use a closed-loop system of circulating sea-water that limits the damage to the ecosystem, rather than generating millions of gallons of superheated water a day. Is it okay to let the Atchafalaya Basin continue to vanish? Certainly not, when all that sediment can be used to restore the coast to protect our natural estuaries as well as our personal properties.
The problem is the anti-environmentalists wonít moderate. Itís their way, or no way. Theyíll sit and guffaw and howl laughter at the notion of stewardship of the planet, while stuffing their faces with Gulf shrimp and basin crawfish. Theyíll disdain global warming from their air-conditioned offices and cite the scientific reports that suit them while labeling the rest as "liberal" nonsense. At best, theyíll meet to plan ways around environmental law at camps where they can hunt wild deer and migratory birds, the limit of their connection to the earth.
Nobody, no corporation or government, has the right to take these things away from us. We have a right to the land, water and air, clean and untainted.