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It’s Not Easy Being Green

LA THROUGH THE HAZE                                                                            (photo by George Lee Cunningham)

A little more than a year ago Carmela and I moved into a new home, located in a windy pass surrounded by mountains. We slowly began making the new house our own, which means among other things, buying an outdoor table for the patio. The first chance we got, we invited our cousins who live around the corner to come over and enjoy dinner and the balmy weather.

The husband, let’s call him Butch, is retired, but he has a part-time business as an exterminator. Over dinner, he started telling us what we needed to do to keep nasty pests at bay. We responded by telling him that we are environmentalists who don’t want to add to the silent spring that Rachael Carson warned about back in 1962.

For those not familiar with Ms. Carson, she said that when we spread poison over the land, it slowly seeps down like a silent spring to the water table below – that same water table that we all depend on for life. Carmela and I sure didn’t want to add to that problem.

We told Butch that we understood that we had moved to an area that has its fair share of wildlife. Coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and skunks are drawn to the neighborhood by the ponds on the golf courses, garbage left outside the pest-proof bins, and domestic pets left unattended outside the safety of their homes. But, we’re weren’t ready to resort to chemical warfare to keep those critters at bay, we told him.

Right about that moment, this giant rat shows up, strolling along the top of the backyard fence, not even a little bit fearful of we humans gathered around the table. We immediately dubbed him Fredrico.

If we give him a name, we thought to ourselves, he will be like an outside pet.

Except, I hate rats. I know that it’s very speciest of me, but they are creepy, disgusting animals that spread disease and multiply at an alarming rate. One of the reasons I am willing to tolerate the coyotes and bobcats is that they kill the rats and eat them.

It’s the circle of life, Simba.

Giving the rat a name, even a kind of cute name like Fredrico, didn’t work. Fredrico had to die, and the sooner the better. So we decided to put out poison in a specially designed box for killing rats.

And while we were at it, there were rats in the attic that needed to be exterminated and there were places along the wall of the house where ants and insects could gain entry, that needed a small chemical barrier to block them and we had already encountered several black widow spiders in the garage. So we reluctantly agreed to a limited amount of chemicals that would allow us to live in our house pest-free.

The pests, a judgmental term for species we don’t really want to be around, could have all the rest of the great outdoors to roam free.

It’s not easy being green.

The truth is, I was an environmentalist before being an environmentalist was cool. But even today, I am not one of the cool-guy environmentalists. For me, being an environmentalist comes naturally – meaning it’s not something that I learned how to do at college. I just grew up doing it.

I didn’t litter – my mom would have slapped me so hard my fanny would have hurt for a week. We didn’t throw away plastic water bottles. We drank our water right from the tap. We picked up after ourselves, we carried our empty coke bottles back to the store for the two-cent-each deposit, and we patched our clothes when they were ripped.

This isn’t about the good old days. There was plenty of bad stuff going on in the good old days that we tend to gloss over in the selective memories of the past. But there were also some good things about the good old days. We kind of lived with what was available. We repaired things rather than throw them away. We washed diapers and used them again. And when kids outgrew their clothes, they were handed down to younger, smaller kids.

The point to all this is that I consider myself a free-range environmentalist, not one of the professional, short-sighted environmentalists, who are so popular today. Professional environmentalists get paid for what they do. I don’t mean to imply that they are not sincere in wanting to protect the environment. Many of them are very nice people, but their perspective is clouded by the fact that being an environmentalist is also their business.

If you work for a big environmental organization, you earn your living pushing programs to clean up the environment, no matter what the cost may be to other people. They are no different than people who work for an oil companies who make their living producing oil that allows people – including environmentalists – to get where they want to go without walking. The truth is if you have a bunch of attorneys on your payroll, you are not going to let them sit around twiddling their thumbs. You’re going to find somebody to sue.

Professional environmentalists seldom do a cost-benefit allowance to see if the damage they are doing to other people is worth the good they are doing by cleaning up the environment. If you want to do your own quick cost-benefit analysis, merely look at the cost per gallon of gasoline in California and in most other states.

It’s not as though environmental groups haven’t done some good stuff. When I first came to California, on most days it was hard to tell that L.A. was bounded by mountains. Now you see the mountains almost every day. But as the environment gets cleaner and cleaner – thanks in large part to environmentalists – the cost of cleaning up the small amount of pollution remaining becomes higher and higher.

Environmentalists, who think of themselves as more pure of heart than the rest of the population, don’t like to think about things like that.

And so they don’t.

– George Lee Cunningham

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