I’m far from the first to notice the increasing popularity of the phrase “radical environmentalist” and its close cousin “environmental extremist” in political discourse lately, but I’m getting darn sick of it. Rick Santorum’s “phony theology” dust-up in February was a prominent national example; as I’m sure you remember, he accused President Obama of adhering to “dark green” religious principles, which he oversimplified thus: “that man is here to serve the earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the earth.” For many of Santorum’s followers, the tautological absurdity of this explanation is immaterial; simply invoking “radical environmentalists” is enough to express condemnation. Linking it to exotic-sounding theology is simply icing on the cake.
As these examples illustrate, for many “radical” or “extreme” environmentalism is a very large tent containing all manner of ills. The disturbing thing is how widely it resonates; as with the “red scare” of the 1950s, the “green scare” has everyone from federal officials to your Uncle Jim seeing George Hayduke lurking in every meadow.
Despite this unfortunate trend in name-calling, I am not ashamed to self-identify as an environmentalist. But I am not a radical and I’m pretty sure you’re not either. I don’t own a monkey wrench and I still believe rational discussions between people of good will are the best way to fix problems and sustain environmental health where it exists. Hopefully like all fads, this one will fade away into the sunset.
Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.
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