Environmentalism, R.i.p.

Jim Scarantino
5 min read
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Just when I was getting ready to celebrate Earth Day, environmentalism kicked the bucket.

Twenty-five leaders of large enviro groups were recently interviewed for “The Death of Environmentalism,” a report presented at a recent conference of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, and authors Mark Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus concluded the environmental movement has become a relic and a failure. They're right. The movement too narrowly defines environmental problems and relies almost exclusively on shortsighted technical solutions. It lacks new ideas. Easy access to foundation funding has let it grow fat and complacent.

The death notice caused quite a backlash. The closer to the trough, the louder the squeals. The Natural Resources Defense Council got so mad it ran ads in major newspapers blasting the report as “compost.”

Enviros disparaging compost? Maybe Big Green's obit is accurate.

Since environmentalism is now nourishing worms, I'm uncertain about what to do with this Earth Day commentary. For instance, what's the point any longer of applauding Gov. Bill Richardson for his defense of Otero Mesa? Before he stepped in the effort was headed for early defeat. Environmentalists had adopted a formulaic and unyielding approach copied from a playbook that hasn't worked elsewhere. They demanded wilderness designation for nearly the entire mesa, with no room for compromise and nothing to back them up but threats of lawsuits.

The Otero County Commission quickly blocked wilderness designation. Local ranchers decided they feared enviros more than oil companies. When someone bothered to look closely at the litigation strategy, turns out it would not have stopped even exploratory wells.

Richardson saved the campaign with a plan enviros didn't completely love. Much of the mesa—640,000 acres—would be protected, but without wilderness designation. Substantial areas would be open to development. By offering a balanced plan allowing responsible energy development, Richardson not only kept the fight alive, he turned the tables on the Bush administration. Now the fight is also about the right of a Western state to determine its future. Ironically, Richardson built his strategy on a regulation slipped into the law during the Reagan years to help Western governors fight environmentalists.

But what's the point of mentioning this now that environmentalism is pushing up daisies?

Does anyone care anymore that Rep. Heather Wilson is quietly assembling a respectable conservation legacy? Every election cycle Big Green spends big money to beat her. But Wilson has worked to preserve habitat for hawks and eagles in the Sandias. And while I cannot say enough about Rep. Tom Udall and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, without Wilson, as a Republican, fighting for the Ojito Wilderness Act, we would not be close to having our first wilderness bill in nearly 20 years.

While it was breathing, environmentalism never would have said anything nice about Linda Rundell, state director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Yet, she swept away agency opposition to the Ojito bill and has been doggedly promoting more wilderness legislation for lands under her supervision. If there's any chance of another wilderness bill in the near future, Rundell's the key.

Albuquerque City Councilor Martin Heinrich must have learned about the death of environmentalism before they zipped up the body bag. For quite some time he's been calling himself a “conservationist,” not an environmentalist. Yet he's been producing a steady stream of real accomplishments, from protecting open space in the Sandia foothills to incentives for recycling and energy efficiency.

Oscar Simpson hasn't paused to mourn. He's President of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which claims a membership of 6,000 hunters and fishermen. For decades it was New Mexico's leading conservation organization, but it slowed as its leaders aged. Under Simpson, it's back in high gear. Simpson would not have qualified as an environmentalist—when they existed. He's a Republican and NRA member. He hunts Bambi and drives a big truck. But that truck hauls the horses he uses to take politicians and journalists into Valle Vidal to show them firsthand how stupid it would be to turn New Mexico's Yellowstone into a methane production facility.

Now that environmentalism has croaked, the volunteer leaders of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club will need a new identity. By disproving many of the criticisms of environmentalism, they are already well on their way. With hardly any funds, these regular folks have been producing meaningful results, like forcing PNM to clean up its mercury emissions and helping to elect good local and state officials. In their grief, they might console themselves with being pragmatists.

That's the point. It's not labels or ideology that matter. Results matter. The biggest reason for wondering whether environmentalism died has been its lack of real results for too many years.

So, R.I.P. environmentalism. We hardly knew ye.

As for you, New Mexico, hope you had a great Earth Day. You earned it.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. Scarantino, a local attorney, can be heard on "The Real Side" on 106.3 FM, Saturdays at 11 a.m. E-mail jims@alibi.com.

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