We environmentalists have rarely been highly regarded by mainstream America, especially by those who profess to mold public opinion and political discourse. We get in the way of “progress,” whatever that is, and complicate and delay development projects with inconvenient discoveries of endangered species, critical habitats and other impediments to the free flow of commerce. When we can’t be ignored, we are vilified, excoriated and otherwise marginalized, accused of heinous tonsorial practices, dumpster diving and offensive body odor.
Lately, over the past five years or so, opponents of environmentalism have stepped up the ante at the table of public opinion. There is now an orchestrated effort to discredit environmentalists and environmentalism by calling us “radical environmentalists” and associating this appellation with “ecoterrorism.”
The right-wing, free-market, property rights web sites and blogs are replete with articles about radical environmentalism. Many such authors speak of environmentalism in religious terms, branding us as irrational religious believers, fundamentalist proponents of animal rights, vegetarianism and deep misanthropism. Most decry the Deep Ecology perspective that humans are but one species among many and, as such, have no inherent right to habitat and natural resources at the expense of other species.
It doesn’t do us or the biosphere any good to back away from Deep Ecology and claim that our environmentalism is for human benefit, as most of the Big Green organizations now claim. We seek to preserve wilderness not for future generations but for itself, for habitat preservation and protection of maximum biodiversity. This benefits the human species only as it benefits all species on Earth.
Economic arguments in defense of environmentalism have become tainted with the specter of socialism and Marxism, discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union and further sullied by the inept bungling of latter-day socialists. Still, much of the cause of our modern environmental ills lie at the feet of our dominant economic system. Regardless of how individuals act within any economic system, it is the means and the mode of production that provide the incentives and limits to individual economic activity.
In any sense of the overused words, capitalism is unsustainable, because it is based on the private ownership of finite natural resources, which are the natural legacy of all life, not just those whose position in human society give them preferred access to those resources. It is capitalism that is threatened by environmentalism and it is capitalism that is fighting back to preserve its preferred way of life.
Simply put, there are too many human beings on this planet, consuming too many resources, individually and collectively, in a political and economic system that rewards production and consumption. Our societies do not embrace protection of non-human habitat in their social organizations. Local and regional governments do not have departments that are tasked with speaking for habitat and biodiversity preservation as a factor in community planning. In human societies, community is defined only in human terms.
It is up to us as environmentalists to speak for non-human species that have no voice in human society. It is not our job to collaborate in the development of critical habitat for the web of life, nor to apologize for our world view that embraces and defends non-human life.
If that is radical, then so be it. Let’s wear our “Radical” badges proudly and defend our “Radical” position at every opportunity.