Reflections On Earth Day (From An Aging Environmentalist)
Courtesy of Kyle Crider, The Green Register Contributor
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” – Henry David Thoreau
I am an environmentalist. Let me state that right up front. You see, environmentalism used to be a term only the “other side” derided. Now it seems to be out of vogue even among practitioners of the art of saving the planet. Environmentalism and its erstwhile national would-be-holiday, Earth Day, are in the midst of counter-revolutionaries and revisionist historians. It remains to be seen where things will settle out until the next wave in the ever-flowing tide that is future becoming history.
My first job as an environmentalist-idealist right out of college was working as the Executive Director of one of Alabama’s most respected (or hated) environmental organizations, the Alabama Environmental Council (AEC, formerly The Alabama Conservancy, est. 1967). I won’t wax nostalgic on my AEC tenure during the late 1980s, except perhaps to paraphrase Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—but at least we environmentalists hung together. Oh, sure, we disagreed plenty in the details; but we called one another by this self-respected name, and we weren’t embroiled in existentialist “who are we” crises. We had a job to do, and reinventing ourselves and our message wasn’t even on a long-range strategic plan.
Something has happened in the intervening thirty-some-odd years. Of course, a great deal has happened in the interim, but I mean that something has happened to us. We ceased to be “us”—not because we became “them,” but because we lost sight of our vision for a whole planet as we updated our various mission statements and revised our goals in the face of political polarization and environmental backlash that made the Reagan era seem like “the good old days.” And, as the Bible warns, where there is no vision, the people perish.
A great deal has happened to me in the interim, too. I like to think I grew wiser and more practical in my environmentalism, even as I have grown wider around my middle. In today’s anti-environmentalism rush, environmentalists fumbled the ball. Thankfully, forward-thinking private businesses have picked it up. It is these environmentalist businesses that are building green, saving energy, championing cradle-to-cradle sustainability, and even advocating self-regulation for social and environmental good.
But environmentalists—and in this case, I am referring specifically to not-for-profit groups of organized environmentalists—aren’t sidelined. Many of the most successful environmental groups these days are those, like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), who have partnered with businesses to lead the way to a sustainable future. The new hybrid environmentalism is facing formidable foes in the form of anti-Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists and other tinfoil hat brigades, but it has racked up recent noteworthy victories, from the newly-green Empire State Building to the 2.2 billion square feet of building space that has been certified under the LEED rating system worldwide through 2012.
I am glad to say that my own dear AEC continues to be an environmental leader in partnerships with businesses statewide and beyond. While other organizations waste time trying to redefine environmentalism for the 21st century, AEC continues doing what it has always done, celebrating Earth Day and sustainability, while getting down to business saving the planet. Those of us likewise in the business of saving the planet applaud such partners, for they are desperately needed. Saving the planet is never unimportant, however unpopular it might be. Some of us have made it our business, regardless of title. But titles are important; they define what we do. I’m proud to claim the title “environmentalist,” even if it seems a bit old-fashioned.
“The years teach much which the days never knew.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
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