Environmentalism is about people
Environmentalists have this image as people who care more about trees and flowers than they do actual people. I remember in the 90s, this stereotype was exploited in a battle to preserve the spotted owl, where environmentalists were portrayed as people willing to destroy jobs and people’s livelihoods rather than hurt an endangered species. The reality, however, is much different. In reality, the species that environmentalism is most concerned with is actually homo sapiens, who need a healthy planet in order to keep living.
The NY Times has a remarkable article today that shows how true that is. The article is about a town called Treece in Kansas that is basically being erased from the face of the planet because mining operations in the town created so much toxicity that it’s unliveable. Town residents were given money by the EPA to leave—though not enough, causing one couple to stay behind because the buyout wasn’t enough to help them start a new life—and demollishing crews have come in to level the abandoned buildings so they aren’t used to fire up meth labs. The state has basically ended the official status of the town, removing it from maps and taking down the signs. There were vague plans of turning the area into a wildlife refuge of sorts after it was cleaned up, but those have been abandoned because clean-up doesn’t seem possible. The details in this story are disturbing:
A local couple, Dennis and Ella Johnston, agreed to give me the pollution tour. In Dennis’s blue Chevy truck, we drove through downtown — a church, trailers, a one-room City Hall with a pair of its windows boarded up — and then went down a dirt road to a pool formed by a caved-in mine. “Local kids used to skinny-dip here all the time,” Dennis said, grinning and pointing at the glassy water. “We’d see kids with sunburns all over their bodies.” But it turns out the kids hadn’t been burned by the sun, he said; they had been chemically burned by all the acids in the water.
There’s a strong tendency in people, and it seems especially in Americans, to see ourselves as somehow not part of nature. We forget that we’re animals, and believe that our technological prowess has allowed us to escape the basic biological needs that come with our animal nature. But stories like this show how much that delusion traps us and puts us in these horrible situations. Especially with conservatives, there’s an ideological commitment to the idea that humans only benefit when we suck all the life out of the earth that we can. Christian conservatives double down on this belief, assuming that the only real problem with careless use of resources is that we’d run out, and they think God is on hand to rapture us before we have to face the consequences. What stories like this show is that bad management of the environment isn’t something that we pay for down the road, but something we pay for in the here and now.