Everybody’s a greenie now

  Suddenly, everybody’s green: developers, who believe a golf course pond is good for wildlife, ski resort managers, who want to use recycled water to make artificial snow, absentee owners, who want to cut everything in sight in the name of fire prevention, though they spend a weekend a year in their Southwest trophy homes.

Or maybe the greening of the meanies isn’t so sudden.

I remember the Orwellian jolt I felt in 1987, as a uranium-mining company public relations woman looked me in the eye and told me her boss was more an environmentalist than any Sierra Club member. The Havasupai tribe and Arizona environmentalists had stalled a Denver mining company from jamming a uranium mine into a South Kaibab forest 13 miles south of the Grand Canyon. Some innocent had the bright idea we should try reasoning with mine representatives.

"We mined for 15 years in Colorado and when our mitigation was done, you couldn’t tell we’d been there," the perky young woman told us. I started to tell her exploratory drilling had already cleared acres of Havasupai medicinal plants, but her eyes were shining. "My boss loves the West," she said. "You can’t imagine how green he is."

Ten years later, I felt that same surreal lurch here in Flagstaff. Local residents had just won the first in what would be three years of legal battles to stop a developer from putting a gated golf-course development next to a volcanic caldera wetland. The county supervisor's hearing ran till midnight, when the developer withdrew his proposal. No one was surprised. Had the supervisors denied his request, he would have had a year’s wait before re-submitting.

Then the developer said cheerfully, "I am going to surprise you. I am an environmentalist." He told us loggers used to clear-cut old growth and that was wrong. "And," he said with great pride, "I support the Forest Service in thinning trees to prevent forest fires. I’m more a greenie than you think."

Somebody chortled. The developer looked wounded.

Later that year, the Forest Service held an Environmental Assessment scoping session on our local ski resort’s proposal to "up-grade" by cutting 66 acres of mature spruce and fir. We heard the ski resort tell us this was not an expansion, it was for existing skiers, because weekend skiers up from Phoenix often had to wait 15, 20, even 30 minutes in line.

Afterwards one of the owners came up to me. "You people are misinformed," he said. "We’re just as green as you are." This time, I barely felt the torque of green-spin. I was beginning to understand the co-optation of language.

Now, over five years later, that same ski resort wants to make fake snow from reclaimed water. The Hopi tribe says "no" to a huge holding pond, night skiing, a snow-play area; "no" to further desecration of a mountain they --and 12 other tribes -- hold sacred. The ski resort is charging ahead with its requests to the Forest Service. Resort managers insist that it is environmentally sound to make snow from reclaimed water in a time of intense drought, against the wisdom of people who have lived here for tens of centuries.

I study the snowmaking arguments and remember the words of the ski resort manager in 1997. He said to a gathering of Dine herbalists and medicine people, "If you ask me if the Peaks are sacred, I will say, ‘Yes, they are sacred.’ I kind of wish the Snowbowl was not there--that it was on a mountain less sacred. This makes it difficult for you and difficult for me."

And now, Flagstaff's twin-golf-course gated development is fighting for permission to cut 7,000 trees --18 to 24-inch in diameter-- around its sprawling playground--despite the existence of a 16-inch cap on thinning, even though most of the mansions stand empty most of the year. Those who do live there, who rave about the beautiful forest in their backyard, find it too difficult to live close to the possibility of wildfire.

And, it would be too difficult for the Forest Service to finance the thinning without "harvesting" those larger trees for sale, even though President Bush promised last summer to do everything he could to prevent wildfire in Arizona.

It is all so difficult---for the green developers, mining company owners, ski resort operators--so difficult to look good and get richer. It is so easy to say the word "green," and hope those who listen don’t understand that what the nouveau greenies really mean when they say "green" is "money."

Mary Sojourner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She lives and writes in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.