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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."