The loneliness of the redneck environmentalist

  • Drew Pogge


I don't have that many friends. I'm not a bad guy; I call my mother, eat my broccoli, and pay my taxes. But I'm a country-music-listening, PBR-drinking, rusty-Jeep-driving good ol' boy - and I love the environment.

I grew up rural in the Rocky Mountain West and Midwest, where farming and ranching still reign. It was, and is, a culture that values hard work, family, and the land itself. It's where the land is a tool, used to produce. Farming and ranching are about bottom-line crop yields - pounds of meat and milk. Hunting and fishing are discussed in production terms - herd, harvest, trophy - and environmentalists are "city people."

Back then, my friends and I were gearheads. The scent of gasoline mingling with amber hues of gear oil and sickly sweet antifreeze was exciting, intoxicating. We took our powerful ATVs "boggin'," leaving a wake of ruts, scarred tree trunks and petroleum-slicked puddles. And it was fun. Yep, I said it. The thrill of whipping through trees, the challenge of climbing a sandy cutbank, the hazards of crossing a silty-bottomed oxbow and churning its delicately balanced micro-ecosystem into frothy, froggy goo - it was exhilarating. The gratification was immediate and powerful; we bent nature to the will of our machines, and it felt good. We'd return home happy, caked in mud, and wash our machines - sending countless invasive plant seeds down the street.

There was never a question about the consequences of our casual destruction. Even my well-educated parents rarely questioned our forays; at least we were outside, they said.

But I left my all-terrain vehicles and all my buddies behind when I went to college. There, between reading all night and climbing Montana's mountains all day, my relationship with the outdoors changed. Instead of dominating the natural world, I wanted to immerse myself in its nuances. I enjoyed the physical work it takes to travel overland on foot or skis. I liked how clearly I could think in the quiet, distraction-free vacuum of wilderness. I loved looking at the world, and actually seeing. But this realization - and my growing awareness of my own environmental hate-crimes - left me estranged from my hometown buddies. And my new friends, mostly environmentally conscious outdoor types, found my confused ideals difficult to understand and viewed me with suspicious tolerance.

I was left with clashing values, a tragic love of both the mechanized world and the natural world - as well as a certain contempt from both sides of a passionate issue.

Now, I'm an editor for a magazine dedicated to backcountry skiing, a sport dominated by the green ideals of human-powered travel, quiet wilderness and a healthy environment. At a fundamental level, global warming threatens the future of my sport and my livelihood. Yet I still crave the sound of a throbbing V-8, still find off-road vehicles fascinating, and still sometimes find myself daydreaming about a new ATV or snowmobile. I'm stuck somewhere between a progressive redneck and a cynical environmentalist. It's like driving a Toyota Prius in a tractor-pull. I just can't win.

The thing is that there's far more overlap than either side wants to admit. Many of my old redneck friends spend far more time in the natural world than the self-proclaimed environmentalists bent on protecting it. They farm, ranch, hunt and fish, and intimately understand how natural resources relate and interact. The conservation movement, on the other hand, often seems to be tainted with hypocrisy. Many activists' only activity outside the air-conditioned comfort of their policy headquarters is to take in nature at a manicured city park, or on the IMAX screen. Does anyone really know what they're talking about?

I believe this question is the source of my social problems. No one wants to recognize the fallacy of their own thinking or the flaws in their own actions; it's always the opposing group, the "greenies," or the "rednecks," causing the problem. I'm a backcountry skier and quasi-environmentalist, but I'm also a gearhead good ol' boy. I empathize with both, and by both I'm almost magnetically repelled, if for no other reason than my empathy with its rival.

That's how I came to be without friends. And for now, that's OK. One day, I believe, the people in my redneck past and my environmental present will mingle harmoniously. I hope it's at a wedding and not a funeral years from now. Until then, I guess I'm destined to be stuck in the middle, between cultures, and between friends.

Drew Pogge is an associate editor of Backcountry magazine and splits his time between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Jeffersonville, Vermont.

Mar 28, 2008 10:43 AM

Mr. Pogge should come to Iceland and try driving all over the glaciers and remote, untouched nature reveling in the beauty of it all. You do absolutely no damage because everything is covered in sno, even the delicate moss and the modified trucks just drive floating on the snow.

Mar 28, 2008 08:43 PM

But if someone  were strictly environmentally inclined, wouldn't that mean they hike in their town open space instead of driving to get to mountain trails? When we are doing our environmental calculus, how do we consider travel to recreation sites? Is it strictly use of gas in an ATV by a rural resident compared to an urban resident who drives to the trailhead but hikes once she gets there? What if the ATV stays on the trail? How many gallons of gas equates to loud noises of ATV's? How bad would ATV's be if they were on trails and quiet? Would it then be a simple equation of gallons of gas per day of recreation?

Clearly the most environmentally sound recreation is to stay home and walk or bike around, so the environmentally correct thing may not be  as simple as some would think. 



Apr 04, 2008 07:58 PM

It feels like the author is going to a lot of trouble building up two supposedly opposing view points, neither of which rings true in his case. 

Apr 05, 2008 02:00 PM

There are more of us out there than you might think.  Growing up a farm kid in eastern Colorado I flung more than my share of mud and even used a few student loan dollars to rebuild an IH Scout and Ford Ranger.  I often used those vehicles to access remote jump off points for backcountry adventures (backpacking and hunting).  On the other hand, I unreasonably bristled at the high volume of aircraft that invaded my last Middle Fork of the Salmon float trip.

My family thinks I am "green" environmentalist (possibly liberal) and many young associates in my chosen profession of resource management would believe that I am a redneck.

I have decided just to be who I am and make the decisions that I believe are most reasonable given the society I live in.  I now have two young children, so often the best option for outdoor time is to load up the Land Cruiser and go camping in the most remote spot possible.  I will follow all of the laws, tread lightly, and take educated precautions about how best to protect the resource while recreating in this manner.  I hopefully will teach my children to do the same.  When they get a little older, we will throw on our packs and walk farther into the wild than that Land Cruiser lawfully or ethically can take us.

B. Hoffner - transitioning from Idaho to Wyoming


Apr 07, 2008 11:29 AM

I am glad to hear that there is more than one of us out there. I have found that the only answer that I can see is an old saying that holds to be very true, "Everything in moderation". Being extreme at anything is not healthy. Anyone and everyone that takes an extreme view on any subject will be at odds with someone and it ussually prevents good things from happening. For example hunting, if the anti-hunter could understand the varied benefits from hunting and allow it to take place and the hunters would show respect not only towards the animal but the nonconsumptive naturalists and not flaunt there kill, wouldn't the world be more peaceful. These types of examples are endless ranging from politics, enviroment,sports, and religion. I can honestly say that I even get caught up in this occasionally and shame on me. Most of this goes back to a willingness to listen and learn first before judging and opposing.

 J. Currie - An Arizonan where conflicts are many, and the fast pace of life is overwhelming. 

Apr 07, 2008 11:53 AM

My husband is from Montana and I am from Ohio (it was a lay over in Denver that put us together.)  Together we never "fit in" between the redneck versus environmental extremism.  We eat meat but are concerned at the lacking enforcement of laws on range lands with BLM and State lands.  We are part of Back Country Horseman which is non-profit and we clear trails to get into the back country as well as keeping gear-heads ON the trail instead of tearing up the land.  During hunting season we see hunters on ATV's not really following the law but not enough enforcement either in Idaho to really make an impact.  We listen to our acquaintances damn the invading "outsiders" trying to take over in some Orwellian Redneck Conspiracy Theory.  In fact, depsite our background of family farming we are lumped as, "know-it-alls" that just don't get Idaho.  Over the years I've helped educate the ignorance of our bliss to the misery of social oppositional behavior because... we have a different opinion backed with logic and truth not just rhetoric that all is well and will always be well.

So I commend you for this writing because I pass so much corruption at the county and state level on my way "into town" by passing the redneck commissioner claiming to live in an RV while having a cabin in another affluent area of another county.  Schools are failing students locally and I'm considered some exceptional parent in skill and with charming, academically astute students.  What?  I'm just a human that learns everyday and implores my kids to be good living creatures that are responsible because of their "hierarchy" not militant drones of business swaggering their prowess of will upon land (or animals.)

If you are ever in the area of Sweet, Idaho you are more than welcome to visit the soil depleted dessert area from a century of deforestation.  The old Boise Cascade Mill is in Emmett the nearest town with the highest rate of cancer and no early detection program.  I'll be at the Relay for Life walk this first year to help bring regional monies in come August.  Having a horse isn't much difference than an ATV.  Mine are not yard ornaments or mowers.  I enjoy them for pleasure and they are earning their keep by working.  However, I still have to purchase high quality grass that suits them and not cows which takes an act of god on one income and price gouging rednecks cashing in on their squatters rights homesteads.  My copy of Crazy Horse sits on my shelf along with Loewen on Everything You've Been Taught Is Wrong... love the little part about Squaw Butte and how ignorant legislative representatives are when Native Americans request stop using profoundly derogatory terms and teaching a "later corruption" that since usage is endearing that's the way it's always been. 

 A bit different from northern Ohio where I at least had some diversity with minorities with high standing educational backgrounds and positions unlike the warped view of "lessers" and the rhetoric of dissension and subtle hate allowances.

I love the feel of the engine but, since having my son and daughter I'm not willing at the expense of their future, their children's future nor that which is depended on.  It's gotten to be an easier decision even in the face of hypocrisy in living in this culture.  The irony will set in when the bio-crops for fuel (stupid corn) on one side of the road and irrigated crop management of bamboo on the side... that's the best idea rednecks have to make money and be "ecologically friendly."  Oh well.

Trisha Beyer

Sweet, Idaho

Apr 07, 2008 11:54 AM

Let's not lose ourselves in another generalization that activists are only city folks who don't experience the natural world outside of "manicured city parks or on the IMAX screen." Policy makers, and those active in truly trying to protect, are very different families. Not unlike Pogge's redneck and environmentalist quarrell.

Apr 07, 2008 12:13 PM

I'd be your friend Drew. I'm a gun loving, hunting, fishing environmentalist.



You sound a lot like the types that say "Gore doesn't want us to drive cars". Environmentalists aren't saying that. We are saying drive less if possible, drive something besides a Hummer, and stay on the trail when you do go outdoors. The anti-enviros are trying to put words in our mouths. Of course we all impact the planet, but some of use try to impact it a little less by changing our habits a bit. I hunt, I don't kill everything that moves and leave it to waste. I hike rather than ride an ATV or dirt bike. I canoe rather than use a mtorboat. I drive to hiking spots, but I drive a fuel efficient vehicle and I drive the speed limit.

 Matt Mallery

Tempe, Arizona

Apr 07, 2008 12:17 PM

I love that term "redneck environmentalist" and have been using it on myself for years, bro.  Nice article!  Also, "redneck liberal" that has a nice ring to it too.  I cut my teeth in small town Oregon and college in Montana as well.  The splendor of the Rocky Mountains combined with the down-to-earth-ness of the genuine folks I've met along the way helped forge my ideals leading me to adopt a similar label.

Take heart - being a redneck and an environmentalist just means you have good common sense where I come from! 

Apr 08, 2008 03:21 PM

"Many activists’ only activity outside the air-conditioned comfort of their policy headquarters is to take in nature at a manicured city park, or on the IMAX screen. Does anyone really know what they’re talking about?"


Uhh, really?

At least you've hit on part of the problem; the strawman thrown up by both sides. It's hard to talk policy and science when someone's bent on tell you that you're something other than what you are...

Apr 16, 2008 11:37 AM

I've been calling myself a treehuggin' cowgirl for years! Thanks for writing this article. Environmentalists and rednecks would get along if only they spoke the same language. I actually went the other way. I grew up in Austin a pissed off suburban environmentalist, but moved to Montana and learned ::gasp:: wood really does come from trees. I still remember my first wolf conservation with a good ol' boy in a wall tent.

I believe a large part of the disconnect is a growing segment of the population who considers studying for the SATs "work". Of course people who grew up haying or logging can't take them seriously. On the other side of things, most people who have only lived in fairly undeveloped areas don't really understand that their lifestyle is scarce. If they've never seen the eastern seaboard or Chicago, they don't realize what the future could hold for their own homes.

 Hopefully more redneck environmentalists, "hickies" and treehuggin' cowgirls will spring up to be the interpreters.


Erin Zwiener

Apr 16, 2008 11:40 AM

Let us start another political party or way of life called the "Common Sense Party" I am also a "Redneck Liberal EnviroGoodolBoy" I have lived in and loved Colorado all of my life. I grew up in the Greeley area and have spent my life hiking, hunting, fishing, biking, geocaching, picking up trash and paintballing the Colorado mountains from Lake City to Estes Park. I have impacted as well as preserved the environment. No one gets more pissed than me to see the trash on the side of the road, but I haven't done much about the problem either. I try to drive less and drive smaller but sometimes you just have to haul stuff and haul ass. I also have 3 bikes for myself and 5 more for the rest of the family. I don't own a boat or an ATV mainly because I can't afford one. Better to know someone who does own one anyway than hassle it on your own. I think of it as COOP arrangement. I say all that to say this........I believe the “truth” lies somewhere in the middle of conservative republicans and liberal democrats. Other than a few social issues, I think a common ground or common sense can be reached on most issues. We can't have it all and we can't always have it our way. You are not lonely Drew just not loud enough. Your article was right on and my guess is that it represents the majority of the population. Keep speaking and maybe some COMMON SENSE will prevail. How about this for a motto. I just cannot seem to come up with a good A word.“get REALR = RedneckE = EnvironmentalistA = ?        possibly AchievingL = Liberal. Or maybe LogicOur team colors will be a combination of Red and Blue which would be Purple. Damn, I was hoping for a more manly color. Go Rockies.That’s all I have for today.


May 19, 2008 11:24 AM

I feel like I have been heading toward this "Green Redneck" state of being, but from the other side. I grew up in the suburbs in a very liberal family who lived "just below Friendly Hills" in Whittier. In other words, not the country club area, but not very far from it. I had the luxury of going to summer camp a couple of times, and I know that really is a paltry portion of the real outdoors, but I do think that shooting a rifle and a shotgun and riding horseback a few times in my life gave me some understanding. I started out afraid to run full bore on a horse, but then one day the horse decided to do it anyway, and after a few minutes of utter terror (partly because I knew it as heading for a highway crossing) and voluntarily dumping myself off the beast into the brush, I sat up and thought, "That actually isn't half bad if I can get some more control over this." I went to UC Berkeley in Engineering, and am still pretty leftist and intellectual, but I have lived a life of not being as well off as my parents were. I have never set foot professionally in Silicon Valley except as an airport shuttle driver. I worked street-level jobs, lived in apartments, and then a trailer park with my first wife, until finally getting a job calculating energy efficiency of buildings for an engineering firm. Now I have a relatively tiny little house in one of the last affordable places within an hour of San Francisco, what I proudly call the Unincorporated Township of Bay Point. I have a backyard which has literally gone wild while my second wife and I arrange the stuff she is moving in, including things for her craft workshop which is taking over the whole garage (no problem, that thing was never big enough to put an actual car in anyway). Though I still don't get outdoors as much as I'd like, I like to think I'm doing some good working on LEED projects in the city and contributing to a better urban ecology.I hear stories from far away about the fights against mountaintop mining in the Appalacian region. It certainly seems like those folk know exactly what is going on, and I hear things out of them that sound pretty on the ball politically. It does certainly fly in the face of this idea of "simpletons" that can be jerked around any which way by one divisive agenda or another.For what it's worth, I think you have a lot of kindred spirits in all walks of life who think deeply about a lot of different issues. It can be a lonely thing trying to mix different ideologies together, but those of us who try are the real hope for something better getting done. 

Working on a site
Andy Greene
Andy Greene
Apr 03, 2009 10:21 PM
I think that there are enough of us out there to try to make a decent website at So far there's not much there, but we're working on it.