Framing the Dialogue

Earth Day 2009

As someone who works in the environmental field, Earth Day is the super bowl.  It is a day when many folks alter their behavior and do things that are “earth friendly” for a day and then go back to the way they always do things.  There are a lot of slogans and events and wearing of t-shirts with earth symbols.

Earth Day is an unusual time for me as a conservative, an environmentalist and someone who works at an environmental regulatory agency.  It is my experience that most people who work in the field are left-leaning and are probably registered as Democrats.  You might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of us conservatives.

We are part of a silent subculture and it is kind of funny as we often find each other surreptitiously.  While we there is no secret handshake, we keep our leanings secret out of necessity.  It is probably much like being a conservative in Hollywood or the mainstream media.  Many folks believe that these two positions do not fit together and a lot of times they would be right, at least that is the perception. 

I left the agency to work in industry a number of years ago and when I came back a person who I did not know introduced herself.  During our conversation, she actually had a moment of clarity as she figured out who I was.  She actually said, “You’re the guy who was working for the enemy and came back.”  She was not joking!  That was her perception of industry. 

You know industry those factory-owning folks that make our cars, radios, shoes, you know pretty much everything.  I will admit that she had the reputation of being a bit of a flake, but I thought that I probably did more positive things for the environment in any given year working for “evil” industry than she did in her entire career.  What most people fail to realize that a strong industry and a strong economy is the best thing for the environment.

Try to name an industrialized nation that has a better environment.  Is it Russia?  China?  The affluence of our nation has been the best thing for the environment.  My parents grew up in the “Smoky City” of Pittsburgh.  My Mother describes how she often had to change clothes during the day as they got soiled just from the air pollution.  Hence the Smoky City label.

As a conservative environmentalist, I have to straddle the line between my chosen field and my more libertarian views of life and government.  This is not always easy as both sides tug at my sensibilities.  I generally find myself in the middle of an unreasonable struggle between the extreme left who seem to want to return to the stone ages and the more right who seem to believe that we should be able to do whatever we want wherever we want.

I had an interesting experience with this a few years ago.  I listen to a conservative talk show each morning where the hosts routinely disparage the environmental movement.  I have to confess that I generally agree with them.  We were hit by the remnants of two hurricanes (Frances then Ivan) within a two-week period.  There was an incredible amount of flooding and damage in the region.

The environmental folks were all over the television talking about the flooding and the Governor even made an appearance.  The radio hosts did their part as one of them took up the challenge and worked non-stop to provide relief to those affected by the damage.  It was interesting for me to see both sides have a common goal.  It was even more interesting to note that neither side seemed to see the irony.

After the emergency was over, both sides went back to their old habits.  Sounds a little like Earth Day.  While more restrictive regulations would not have really made a big difference in the flooding (Mother Nature always wins), better land use practices could have helped.  That is my dilemma.  I know that we can do better and I know that laws should not be overly prescriptive. 

What we need is more in the middle. 

That is where you will generally find me.

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