The loneliness of the redneck environmentalist


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 at 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 a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is an associate editor of Backcountry magazine and splits his time between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Jeffersonville, Vermont.

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

Apr 01, 2008 11:27 AM

"Does anyone really know what they’re talking about?"

 In my opinion, very few, but it sounds like Drew might be one who does. He needs to talk more about firearms though or his redneck cred is just not happening.


Apr 01, 2008 11:33 AM

Great article Drew!

Try being a vegan in South Dakota!!


Apr 01, 2008 11:41 AM

Hybrid Enviro-Redneck

Drew; Its like I wrote this piece – I totally identify with your predicament. I was raised on beer-drinkin and motor-cross.    My family and friends were all cut from the same cloth.  Most of us were destined to have factory jobs or work in a body shop.  Our free time was mandatory hunting, fishing, and ripping through the woods on a off-road bike.  Somewhere, in between my first and second years at college, while working the summer at the zoo, I got hooked up with some great people.  They too spent a lot of time in the woods, drinking and getting crazy, but they paddled canoes and rode mountain bikes.  They opened my eyes to a great outdoors experience.  Instead of watching the mud fly and the trees whir by, they time to really look at nature and study how it works.


I now work as a professional biologist for the government.  My old friends and family don’t really understand what I do.  I’m sure that they think that I went “enviro”.  Most of my present friends and co-workers think that its odd for me to want to ATV and snowmobile.  I ride a street bike now.  And still dig the rumble of the motorbike. 


I think I know where you are coming from – I don’t really fit into the stereotypes that those around me would like.  I think its an advantage though; I can identify with either side and can find the common ground that is sooooo lacking in the environmental arena.  Many ATVers just want to have fun.  With a little practical advise from me, they can have fun and not damage our natural resources.  Sometimes, being a hybrid enviro-redneck has its advantages.  Good luck to ya.


Apr 01, 2008 04:29 PM

Great article!!  This describes my life pretty well, as I often have to wear two hats.  On one hand, I am a professional biologist working with endangered species and I care deeply for the natural world.  On the other hand, I own a highly modified Tacoma that I love driving on tough back country roads to get me to the great remote places of the world.  I have groups of friends on both sides and there is little mingling due to all the distrust.  I love the looks of disdain I get from my “greenie” friends when they see my truck or the same looks I get from my “redneck” friends when they discover the line of work I am in.

Here’s to redneck environmentalists, we are the ones on the frontline getting work done, and facilitating real-world compromises.  Nice article Drew and continue the fight. 

Apr 01, 2008 05:08 PM

Welcome to the Greenneck's world!

I get the feeling there's a lot of us out there.  I've created a blog to document our species:


Apr 02, 2008 02:42 PM

Drew, you and the other redneck environmentalists should be welcomed with open arms by the environmental community.  Props to enviro orgs that are pulling up a chair for you, and many are.  Those who disagree, let me ask you this: who is the average ATVer or hunter more likely listen to about environmental issues?  Someone like Drew or the city slicker with Briks and dreads from Boulder?  The Drews have more credibility in rural communities and can make much more progress towards protecting the environment than outsiders can.  Of course, there are those enviros who don’t have any intention to work with local "rednecks," they’d rather push their top-down "solutions" on the locals. Hey, that's fine if that's the way you want to go about business, and maybe that's warranted sometimes.  But I would argue you’re hurting our cause when you stick your pretentious nose in the air and proclaim that you are better than other folks.  My vision of environmentalism starts at the grassroots, and Drew and other posters (including vegans from South Dakota!) are welcome anytime.



Apr 02, 2008 06:45 PM

Good article.  Being in the middle isn't always a comfortable place to be, yet it is a place where one can really make a difference for good, I believe.  I'm encouraged to see there are others who feel similar to how I do.  Thanks.  -PB

Apr 03, 2008 11:11 AM

Drew,  I come to this discussion a bit differently than you but with some of the same conclusions.  Likely being considerably older than you and Hybird combined, I did not grow up as a motor head, motors to me being mostly what ran tractors.  I did come from the 'bloodthirsty' hunter realm though--you know, the guy who has room for all of God's creatures right next to the mashed potatoes.  I have found, however, that in working with the envirogreenies or whatever you want to call them, they are so close to us in wanting to preserve habitat and wildlife for future generations that we seem to have an R**2 of .99.  Besides that they are smart, capable, and highly committed.  Contrary to your suggestion, most of the ones that I know are also skillful outdoors people.  I have also found that most of them, though they may not hunt themselves, do not have a problem with me doing so, particularly the ones better educated in game management.  With all of the threats to wildlife and habitat, I find these folks to not only be allies but also friends and compatriots.  We need them and they need us and together the synergy makes us more than twice as strong and either group by itself.

Freezing Jay

Apr 03, 2008 11:24 AM

Great Article. 


One thing I kind of disagree with though:  While it's probably true that "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," there are many, many environmentalists like myself that practice what we preach.


I teach and live primitive wilderness skills.  I'm probably the opposite of you in terms of culture that I come from. For instance, I can't stand redneck ATVing, country music, cheap beer or 4WD noise, but I spend every extra minute either working on permaculture forest gardens on my own acreage, or practicing & teaching wilderness living skills and hiking into areas where I can live with minimal gear for many days - trying to reach ever-deeper levels of awareness of the beauty of nature around me. 


I'm not the only one like this.  There are a lot of environmentalists like me who do more than sit in IMAX theatres watching nature movies.  This is meant as a side-note to your otherwise well-taken point about armchair environmentalists. 


However, as to the actual armchair environmentalists, I don't really have a problem with that either - and neither should you.  At least they are aware there's a problem and are trying to do something about it in their own way too. 

Apr 03, 2008 12:36 PM

Is this guys single?

Apr 03, 2008 04:40 PM

Drew, I know the feeling. I'm often considered too "green" for my red Republican friends and too "red" for my almost monolithically liberal Democrat environmental friends. Oh well, you can still make a difference and enjoy life even if you're not color coordinated.


Jim DiPeso, Policy Director, Republicans for Environmental Protection

Apr 17, 2008 11:41 AM

Hey what happened to my comment Drew.

Michael Cyphers posted 4-16


Apr 22, 2008 11:39 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 21, 2008 12:45 PM

I thought this was a great article I could relate to (except the no friends part  :)  )!


Thanks for sharing your insight to what many of us feel.  Gracias!