Environmentalism is tripping over its own obstructionist tendencies.
Recent stumbles highlight a schism of motive festering deep within environmental politics.
At one level, environmentalism aims at cleaning up and protecting the environment. That motive is constructive.
At another level, environmentalism aims at limiting human effects on nonhuman parts of nature. That motive, manifest in strong antidevelopment prejudice, is perverse.
The motives are colliding over a study of ocean sequestration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, off Hawaii.
Funded mainly by Norway and Japan with help from the US government and several oil companies and automakers, the project would inject liquefied CO2 into federal waters off Kauai for 2 weeks to study dissolution and dispersion at moderate depth.
Environmentalists, supported by tourism and fishing interests, object. They fear possible changes to the seawater and harm to marine life.
So environmentalists stir up fear about intensification of greenhouse warming by human activity. Then some of them move to block research into a possible way to moderate human emissions of a greenhouse gas.
In Pennsylvania, local environmentalists are trying to halt construction of 47 wind turbines in the Moosic Mountain Ridge northeast of Scranton. They say the machinery will spoil pristine forest and threaten birds.
So Pennsylvanians express a desire for electricity generated by wind energy, despite its relatively high cost, because they consider it environmentally advantageous. Then construction of the necessary turbines runs into environmental opposition.
These aren't the first knots into which environmentalism has tied itself. They won't be the last.
The reason: Too many environmentalists define their purpose by what they oppose and measure success by the activity they prevent.
They thus put themselves at cross-purposes, reflexively resisting any human disturbance of the physical world, even when it results from the pursuit of environmental goals.
The contradiction raises a question that needs an airing in politics: What do environmental activists really want?
The objective is supposed to be a clean environment. Too much of the environmentalist agenda concentrates instead on telling naturally free human beings how, when, and whether to move about and work.
(Online July 26, 2002; author's e-mail: [email protected])