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Know the West

Band-aid environmentalism

  Dear HCN,

Once a talented surgical team ready to save the world, the environmental movement has devolved into a school nurse dispensing sterile advice and used band-aids.

Warning that "time is short," editor Paul Larmer's plea for the West as "an island besieged" (HCN, 1/21/02: The American West is an island besieged) presents a brief shopping list in search of "a few more victories." Gone are the days when visionaries understood that environmental impact is the total of three multipliers: population, technology and consumption. Now every technological breakthrough in efficiency and waste reduction is instantly cancelled by an avalanche of population. Today's Sierra Club calls for higher density development that further removes people from nature while rejecting the obvious: that population increase in the U.S. is due solely to the demographics of immigration, which at current rates, according to the Census Bureau, could double the nation's population in just 50 years.

A perfect snapshot of band-aid environmentalism can be seen a few pages away from Larmer's entreaty in "A neighborhood for Aspen's 'middle' class." There a wealthy ski-town land developer finances a Worldwatch Institute conference and turns a 22-acre plot into a "North Forty" subdivision whose residents are itemized as two architects, a property manager and a builder. Stand back, death and taxes, the developer tells us that "growth is inevitable."

John Walker
Coaldale, Colorado