Dear Paul

by Lorna Salzman

A response to Paul Kerlinger, a birder and author, who posted a letter to the Conservation Through Birding list serve

Dear Paul:

I was distressed to see your report on how many organizations, from ABA to National Audubon, have resisted addressing the economics of birding and ecotourism. They certainly must be in Ivory-Billed Towers to take that attitude. But those organizations are not noted for their political savvy or for that matter for being tuned in to public attitudes or, most important, having an awareness of how they have abdicated their roles as potential leaders in conservation.

I must, however, take strong issue with your suggestion that hostility to business on the part of the environmental movement is possibly responsible for the present anti-environment actions of the administration in Washington DC. Surely you are not suggesting that a softer, more compromising position by environmentalists on such things as ANWAR or old growth forests or endangered species or fisheries would have made a difference?

And surely you do not think that the administration is underneath it all really pro-conservation but is just being stubborn? Or that it might eventually acknowledge the justness of the environmental cause? Or that it really is scared of global warming but is just teaching environmentalists a lesson for being so "purist"?

Paul, I am disturbed not to say annoyed by the inferences in your post, mainly because it seems to ignore the entire history of conservation and environmentalism in the US, a history that I have personally been involved in since the mid-1960s, through work at two national organizations (FOE and Audubon) and one NYC agency (DEP), as well as my grassroots environmental work alongside and within groups like TNC, LI Pine Barrens Society, etc. I dont know where you have been, but the answer has been in front of all our faces for decades. You are not the only one who has misunderstood or taken the occasionally imprudent statement of a fringe group or individual as representative of either the broad pro-environment public or the vast majority of grassroots organizations and activists.

The fact is that we are in this sorry state right now not because of purported hard-line anti-business positions but because the major national organizations like Audubon, NRDC, Environmental Defense, Sierra Club, etc. have softened their tone and positions, readily compromised with industry and as a matter of policy have abandoned any actions or stances which could appear as adversarial to business or government regulation. Unfortunately it is THEIR statements and positions - essentially signals they give to the administration and congress and the media - that have allowed this administration to wreak what may prove terminal havoc on our natural resources, wilderness, public lands, national parks and ecosystems. These groups long ago abandoned their leadership role that produced so much progress in the 1970s, leaving the rest of us to flounder and often to oppose them as they try to sell out.

Would that the few and far between statements of small-time activists and groups had so drastically threatened the administration that it was forced to aggressively pursue its disastrous environmental, energy and resource policies! Would that the Dave Foremans and Dave Browers were perceived as the iron will of the vast majority of the American people! Would that "deep ecologists" like Bill Devall and his ilk could seriously anger Pres. Bush and his soulless cohorts to the point where they vow revenge against them by destroying the US natural heritage! Would that those of us who preach ecological values and doctrines had so much influence!

But there is something important you overlook too, and this is more distressing. This is the notion that there is really little or nothing in the business community that deserves criticism, and that the real solution to all this does NOT lie within the business and corporate community. I find this implication truly appalling. Let me ask you: who in fact is to blame for global warming, the threat to freshwater resources, wetlands destruction, habitat loss, diminishing endangered species, cutting of old growth forests, chemical pollution of our food and in our workplaces.....etc, etc? If you respond by saying "all of us", you are sadly mistaken.

The American public does consume too much, waste too much..and why? Because everything from energy to food to consumer goods is underpriced, and deliberately, so as to strengthen the foundations of the consumer culture and not impede economic growth.Americans are not given alternatives; they are not told the real price of their bad habits; they have no one who is willing to tell them the truth about the sickness and unsustainability of our present society; they are lied to by the media and the government so as to keep them unaware of the seriousness of the situation and how it is getting worse and worse. And of course the rich and powerful are far more to blame than the poor and powerless, who are at the mercy of everyone.

Instead, let's acknowledge the responsibility of the auto industry that resists minimal improvement in fuel efficiency not to mention smaller cars; the oil industry, which wants to keep us fatally hooked on fossil fuels; the chemical and pharmaceutical industries which have actually obtained INDEMNITY against adverse health reactions; the agribusiness sector which wants to foist untested unproven genetically modified foods and crops on not just us but the poor nations of the world; the logging companies and ranchers who devastate public resources and lands with taxpayer subsidies; the attempts by corporations to privatize fresh water supplies in the US, Canada and South America; the utilities that are moving to re-pollute and re-degrade our clean air. You can extend the list indefinitely. I have just brushed the surface. Through and through we are talking about unchecked greed, unchecked unaccountable corporate power over both government and our resources, unchecked consumption and waste...all made possible by the lack of government regulation as well as by vast taxpayer subsidies that make alternatives impossible.

For you to even imagine for an instant that the anti-environment stances of the present administration have anything whatever to do with environmentalists has got to be the most severe delusion I have ever encountered. If you are as unaware of this history and the roots of the ecological crisis, then you cant blame ABA and Audubon for their shortsightedness.

Please take the time and trouble to review the history of environmentalism in this country, in all its diverse facets and representations, because if and when you do, I think you will arrive at a very different perspective and analysis.


Lorna Salzman

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.