Currently, a controversy is swirling over the issues raised by the despoiling of the world’s natural environment. Poet Stanley Kunitz in “The War Against the Trees” depicts a man watching his neighbor, “who sold his lawn to standard oil” (Kunitz 122), laugh as bulldozers ruin the natural beauty of the grounds with its “forsythia-forays and hydrangea-raids” (Kunitz 123). As industry wages war not just against flowers and shrubbery, but also against the town’s pleasant past. Kunitz’s speaker is angry that this war “against the great-grandfathers of the town” (Kunitz 123) is destroying these ancestors’ attempt to preserve nature, not allow “the green world” (Kunitz 123) to be turned into a “death-foxed page” (Kunitz 123) of barrenness. Some pro-environmentalists, like Sioux medicine man John (Fire) Lame Deer, claim that the damage industrialized society has done to nature is both immense and nearly criminal , the result of greed. Lame Deer complains that the white men “have not only despoiled the earth, the rocks, the minerals, all of which they call dead’ but which are very much alive; they have even changed the animals, which are a part of us, part of the Great Spirit, changed them in a horrible way, so no one can recognize them” (Erodes 209).
On the other hand, conservatives frequently label environmentalists as extremists who despise almost all of capitalism’s practices regarding ecology. That is, some extremist defenders of the profit motive name call, terming environmentalists “vandals” (Huber2 1) who prefer “forests over jobs” (Huber2 1) that the industrial age provides. Clearly, the issue has been politicized. Nonetheless, no one can deny that the earth, while not on the brink of annihilation, has been polluted and our air contaminated by the inroads created by the mechanized era. Furthermore, no caring person should recommend a “do-nothing” policy regarding the preservation of our environment which we ourselves are in the process of ruining. The answer to the ecological dilemma is to assess realistically the extent of the damage and work to create a sensible, practical solution to the problem of our eroding environment through cooperative efforts. It is hard to doubt that human beings are wasting or eroding the earth which we all live on.
Not only have the industrial nations altered their natural settings by overbuilding dams, destroying rain forests, and driving species out of their natural habitats to die or mutate, but they have pushed the earth close to the limits of its resources. Lame Deer charges that because certain animals like coyotes, if left alive, “could lose some man a few cents,” (Erodes 212) our fauna are being depleted. We have also divorced ourselves from the healing power of nature and from our innate ” love for all that has been placed on this earth’ ” (Erodes 214) such as vegetation, the waters, the air, and all animals– except homo sapiens, whom out of self-interest we favor. Anyone living in Dallas or coastal areas of Louisiana last summer will find it hard to forget the “smaze” that choked us. Blowing in from dry regions to the South, such as Mexico, the smoke came from widespread fires caused by aridity and by flammable industrial materials. Consequently, if anyone mocks those who claim our earth is decaying, these doubters should have just taken a whiff of the “smazed” air and then listened to his or her own coughing.
We need to preserve not just the beauty of our few remaining wildernesses, but biodiversity, human and animal health, and the very survival of our planet as we know it now. Most environmentalists and other analysts date widespread concern over ecological balance and conservationism to the appearance of Rachel Carson’s landmark book published in 1962, Silent Spring. From its publication on, “Nature became more than something that existed at a distance from most of human settlement, and nonhuman species were suddenly not the only species at direct risk from human impositions on the natural world. Pollution and human health, shifted to the center of concern, were seen as inseparable from conservation concerns” (Paehlke 261). Carson indicted human beings for unleashing a “chain of evil” (Carson 324) in the form of pollution: “In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals and the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation are changing the very nature of the world the very nature of its life” (Carson 324) with a “barrage of poisons” (Carson 325).
On the NBC Today show on December 4, 1998, scientists reported on a Danish study showing the likelihood that certain pesticides, which remain in the body for decades, significantly increase a woman’s risk for getting breast cancer. With the visible increase in pollution of the air and water by CO2 emissions and by toxic chemical waste, most alert people have become aware of the long term ill consequences of a reckless technology about to run amuck. With the energy crisis strike in 1973, when the OPEC nations withheld oil from the west, the general public began to realize that there is a third dimension besides pollution and health attached “to environmental/conservation concerns: sustainability- the sustainability of resources, the sustainability of ecological systems, and the sustainability of both industrial economies and human societies” (Paehlke 261).
In short, these “current environmental crises make a systematic, scientific understanding of ecological principles especially important” (Cunningham 248). By 1998, knowledgeable people must be familiar with the assault on the earth and its living creatures resulting from industrial abuse. However, the pragmatic issue of protecting ourselves from ecological disintegration unfortunately has degenerated into a heated political argument, when instead of squabbling and hurling charges, people should collaborate and work out reasonable solutions to our environmental crisis. Unfortunately, environmentalism has become a set of ideas that many refuse to accept as wholesome or valid: “One way of grasping its meaning is to see environmentalism as a political ideology, in some ways not unlike the classic political ideologies of liberalism, conservatism, and socialism. Ideologies carry and convey a set of social values and seek to alter the societal and political agenda through the expression and interpretation of those values” (Paehlke 260).
Some critics of environmentalism object on political, ideological grounds to the movement, insisting it is intent on undermining capitalism. Since the West probably is still haunted by the ghosts of the Cold War and communism, many of its citizens feel threatened by a perceived attack on mechanization and industrialization from enthusiastic ecologists. Instead of seeing interest in saving rivers, the redwoods, and grey wolves as a subversive attack on the sacred principles of the free marked, private property, and the capitalist’s pursuit of property, conservatives ought to forget politics and support intelligent efforts to clean up chemical wastes, the waters of the earth, and the very air we breathe. Partisanship should not taint programs to save the environment, and cooperation should be the key word.
The existence of charges and countercharges by both sides of the political spectrum have succeeded only in muddling the vital issue of environmentalism and in sparking emotionalism on a crucial problem requiring rational, dispassionate thought for its solution. The extreme right is mistaken when it attacks environmentalism as one of the “intellectual-led movements” (Sowell 1) that are best called moral melodramas’ that “[turn] practical tasks into holy causes and Promethean undertakings” (Sowell 1). Downgrading intellectuals as melodramatic a term connoting foolish, unjustified exaggeration the ultraconservatives criticize intelligent environmentalists as people who “cannot rely on the mundane” (Sowell 1). Again in his column in Forbes, Thomas Sowell uses a word, conjure, with a negative connotation: when one hears it, one thinks of sorcerers or just ordinary people afflicted by an overactive imagination no one to be taken seriously.
Over a year later than Sowell’s essay came out, the same periodical, Forbes, printed another anti-environmentalist article whose very title employs three emotionally-loaded words, “Green Alchemy: misbegotten environmentalists.” The word green suggests the political radicals in Europe who advocate extreme measures to preserve the earth as well as the ecological organization Greenpeace, which the author, Peter Huber, ridicules. Then, alchemy refers to quacks in the Middle Ages who deceived people that they could turn any metal into gold as a greedy hoax. Within Huber’s article, the author lumps environmentalists with other irrational people “of alchemical temperament conspiracy theorists, occultists, central planners.” (Huber1 2) These unbalanced environmentalist, Huber contends, see free markets as wicked and capitalists as vile in an exaggerated attempt to discredit those who are genuinely interested in saving our health and our planet.
This type of hot-headed rhetoric and unnecessary name calling impedes most collaborative programs that intend to benefit the environment and thereby help our children and grandchildren live in a wholesome atmosphere. With the future of the planet at stake, it is detrimental to the safety of all its organisms to have ranting and raving replace constructive action. In spite of all the thunder on the right and warning signals on the left, one point is clear: we must guard our earth or decline with it. No reasonable person wants the world to time travel back to the Paleolithic Age or even the Neanderthal Age by shutting down industries and trying to survive all species and every tree around the globe. Yet, it is immoral not to be concerned about passing on a legacy of a doomed earth to future generations.
Logically, the best approach is the moderate one that begins at local and state levels and even involves the federal government in a wholesome, effective campaign to pull together our battered planet. Certainly, the federal government and private individuals will come up the funding to undertake a massive clean-up of the environment if only they could debate the question of “how” rather than “Why should we do it?” The answer to the latter question should be clear: to halt the horrifying possibility that one day, sooner or later, the earth will be unable to support many living species. Works Cited Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York: Harpers Collins Publishers, 1991. Silent Spring was responsible for the environmental movement in the United States. The book itself created a concern across the nation about the dangers of pollution. Carson made it clear to humans that we are the ones responsible for the damage through uses of toxic chemicals.
I received this article from Mrs. Channell. She had a book containing exerts from well-known books. Cunningham, William P. “Ecology.” The Environmental Encyclopedia. Eds. Terence Ball, Terence H. Cooper, et al. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1994. 248-250. Cunningham explains that ecology is gaining importance in today’s trendy lifestyles, which consume most of nature’s resources. The article explains the relationships between different species in the same community, how ecosystems function. This article is very educating on the current ecological processes. This article was found in an environmental encyclopedia. Huber1, Peter. “Green Alchemy: Misbegotten Environmentalism.” Forbes 161(March 23, 1998): 6pp. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1998. This is an original article from Forbes magazine. This article is useful in showing how bitter and nasty extremists can be over environmental issues. I found this article through a search on Infotrac. I used the keyword environmentalism. Huber2, Peter. “How to Love Butterflies and be a Conservative: Environmental Issues.” Forbes 157 (April 22, 1996): 8pp. Infotrac. Online. 23 Oct. 1998. A conservative approach to environmentalism is included in this article, which is from the magazine Forbes.
However, the author believes that concern over our degenerating environment is necessary. Kunitz, Stanley. “The War Against the Trees.” A Survival Kit. Eds. Howard Siegel and Roger Boedecker. New York: Canfield Press, 1971. 122-123. This poem criticized the modern technological society for its insensitivity to the needs of others and to the survival of life as we know it. Lame Deer, John (Fire) and Richard Erdoes. “Talking to the Owls and Butterflies.” Aims of Argument, 2nd Ed. Eds. Timothy Crusius and Carolyn Channell. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1998. 209-214. This essay is a critique of European environmentalism. This article was received as a handout in class. The essay states that Native Americans were the first radical environmentalist, and that we created the environmental problem we are dealing with now. Personally, I feel that Lame Deer is a “tree hugger” and who much prefer nature over just about anything, especially jobs.
Paehlke, Robert. “Environmentalism.” Conservation and Environmentalism: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Robert Paehlke. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1995. 260-261. This article comes from an environmental encyclopedia. It tells how environmentalism has altered. Most of our society, polity, and economy has been affected through this new environmentalism. Environmentalism has more of a long-term concern on conservation. Sowell, Thomas. “Moral Melodramas: Intellectuals Thrive on Moral Melodramas.'” Forbes 159 (January 13, 1997): 1pp. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1998. This article comes from the Forbes magazine.
This article attacks supporters of environmental preservation by calling intellectuals who exaggerate and make melodrama over problems in the environment mundane. Wainwright, Hilary. “Hidden History: British Labor Party’s Economic Policy.” New Statesman and Society 9 (April 19, 1996): 4pp. Infotrac. Online. 10 Nov. 1998. This is an article from the New Statesman and Society magazine. The article states that the approach to environmentalism could have appalling political results. It also states that the traditional progressiveness of labor is needed to help repair the damages we have done to our earth.