Different concept

Thursday’s column by Bradley Fish prompted me to write and point out a conceptual difference that exists among those interested in the environment which creates a good deal of confusion. I call this the difference between tame and wild environmentalism.

A good example of the tame variety is the NIU administrator who would think to cut down trees, on an already tree-starved campus (tree-starved town if you tour DeKalb), simply to allow motorists zooming past a better view of the Holmes center.

Such a person would easily see our campus reduced to grassy areas occasionally lined with short, neat rows of standard oak or white pine trees.

This is the same thinking that would convert the U.S. to a cultivated and grassed landscape from coast to coast with parks for the “wildfire” neatly encircled with national park fences and with blacktop running to all vantage points so that tourists can visit mother nature and never step out of the car. A Howard Johnsons at the park center is also obligatory so that the comforts of home, and Saturday afternoon baseball, need not be missed.

A tame environmentalist would see no reason to maintain any parks beyond the traditional biggies like Yellowstone and Yosemite—plenty of space for everyone as long as you keep the cars moving.

Tame environmentalism expresses itself strongly within the Federal government as in, for example, the new regulations for preserving wetlands. These regulations were strongly influenced by the “National Wetlands Coalition,” an aptly named group including Amoco, Arco, Chevron, Conoco and Exxon.

The new rules “streamline” wetlands definition so that over half of existing wetlands become open for draining and development. This playing games with names is a hallmark of the tame environmentalist who would honestly think that reducing wetlands is all right, since, after all, we are keeping some around for people to look at.

The tame environmentalist sees nature purely in economic and recreational terms, and has no concept of the necessity of environment uninfluenced by man to the maintenance of water supplies, to the balance of insect populations, to the future potential of new drug development, to the future development of natural controls of agricultural pests, or to the balance of the human psyche (there is mounting evidence that humans need wilderness psychologically).

Therein rests a fundamental difference in environmental thinking, a wild environmentalist appreciates the place of wilderness in maintaining the world and is not so arrogant as to think that we humans can orchestrate living things as we please. Tame environmentalists are “managers” who lack understanding of the complex thing they pretend to manage.

Next time you talk to someone who claims to be an environmentalist, make sure to ask them what kind of environmentalism they mean. You may be surprised at the ideas hiding behind that popular label.

Paul Loubere

Associate Professor