My Turn: Protecting the environment isn't 'extreme'

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

I really get tired of this polarization between so-called non-environmentalists and so-called environmentalists. It's such a paralyzing stand-off and for what reasons? It's as if caring for the health of the environment were a nasty idea. Shouldn't we all be concerned for the well-being of the planet and do our part locally to protect it and to repair damages done, as we hopefully learn from the mistakes of the past?

Yeah, you bet there's obvious good reasons for concern. Compared to all of recorded time, it's only been the past 100 years we've seen phenomenal degradation of the planet world-wide, and the grandeur of highly valued natural areas reduced to remnants at an unprecedented rate, a lot of which has happened in the last 50 to 100 years. It's only been the second half of the last century that the human consensus has identified with ever-alarming frequency the surmounting dangers inherent in the mass over-exploitation of global resources.

We know what human minds driven by wealth and power are capable of, given current technologies. We see the record-breaking levels of consumption that Americans in general are participating in. As society grows and changes at a landslide speed, it's a good idea to look ahead and make smart choices today that will affect us positively tomorrow. With hindsight, it is absolutely a wise choice to view with caution these powerful industrial conglomerates who promote monstrously huge, wide-scale environmentally impacting projects. It is equally valid to express concern for our backyard resources which we've seen from day to day disappear by stealth, without public consent or concern for the resident's values.

Environmentalists have been labeled extremists. Personally, I cannot think of a better thing than supporting the health of the environments we collectively depend upon. To the contrary, cutting down every tree on a mountainside or in a valley is definitely extreme. Also, when a few wealthy individuals make the decisions for millions by pouring toxic chemicals into the air and water, that is extreme. When the quality of rivers is damaged so that salmon do not return, that is extreme. If there were ever a prime time for environmental stewards to step forth, it is right now. To sustainably manage our commonly-held resources is not such a far-out concept.

It's time for a reality check. Do you like breathing clean, fresh air? Do you appreciate drinking pure water? Do you like seeing trees on the mountains around your home and having those forests support subsistence needs? Do you enjoy the presence of our diverse Alaskan wildlife? Do you want there to continue to be healthy salmon runs in our streams and rivers? And finally, do you want your children and their children to experience and enjoy this same level in the quality and richness of these resources? Then this is your wake-up call. If you answered any or all of these questions with a "yes," welcome to the "extremist" greenie group. You are an environmentalist as well. That's everybody: Families, hunters, trappers, outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, fishermen, loggers, kids and politicians.

Earth Day is coming up April 22. Get involved now and throughout the year. You can share your support in numerous ways. Try picking up trash in your neighborhood or around town. Write letters to your state legislators. Support local conservation groups with donations of your time, energy and money. Educate your kids while taking a walk on the beach. Get involved by standing up for environmental issues you believe in. Conserve energy and resources. It all adds up. Join in.

Tom Lee is an avid outdoorsman and wilderness enthusiast who has traveled thousands of wilderness miles by foot and sea kayak in Alaska.

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