Paul Andersen: Oh, those damned environmentalists |

Paul Andersen: Oh, those damned environmentalists

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

No one becomes an environmentalist to get rich. But that’s what one oil and gas magnate told me when he charged that “enviros” don’t want to make reasonable compromises because of job security.

“If they resolve their issues, they’re unemployed,” he said. “So they take hard lines that keep them working against business.”

It’s hard to refute such a cynical view in a culture mired in self-interest, to imagine anyone acting on values other than those measured by money. What separates environmentalists from that mindset is the passionate motivation that comes from biophilia.

Biophilia means love of life, a deep alignment with the living world, an innate connection with the biosphere as an inspiring cause.

Greta Thunberg is a stand-out on the environmental front because she is in it for the cause. Like all successful social justice activists, Greta treats climate change the way evangelicals treat sin — preaching redemption through atonement and moral suasion.

Right here at home, Rick Heede of Snowmass has worked years to identify the world’s biggest carbon polluters. He has faced ridicule and intimidation, but he perseveres in pursuit of social justice so as to make polluters accountable.

No true environmentalist would connive for job security over meaningful results. Environmentalism is not a vocation; it’s a calling. You have to believe. Holding industry to higher standards requires persistence, not payouts.

Decades ago, while living in Crested Butte, I reported on an environmental battle between the town and AMAX, a multinational corporation intent on mining 300 million tons of molybdenum ore from nearby Red Lady Bowl.

Job security had nothing to do with defending small-town autonomy. It was all about staving off the very real and damaging socio-economic impacts of an extractive industry. Crested Butte vowed that it would not become the next sacrifice zone to the pathology of unbridled growth.

When faced with the company’s claim of an exemplary track record in developing “a new generation of mines,” Mitchell, the mayor, said, “AMAX wants to do the best possible job on something that should never be done in the first place.” He knew there was no reasonable compromise on a mega-mine.

Critics put down environmentalists as radical obstructionists by sticking a label on them. Labels depersonalize. They put people into a box where it’s easier to condemn, slander and vilify. This is the same political strategy that’s divided our country. Cynics dodge real issues by simply condemning “those damned environmentalists.”

Biophilia is just the opposite; it unifies. When love of life is the sum of one’s life, there is no separation between you and the environment. A true environmentalist doesn’t work 9 to 5, only to drop it all and commute home in an F-350. Being an environmentalist is a 24/7/365 commitment.

A life of integrity has to reflect one’s ideals and values. If your body, mind and spirit are fully involved, undying passion will result. Compensation is not monetary; it is paid through success in conservation, preservation and valuation of all life, especially for future generations.

Critics complain that “Greenies” only want to dismantle civilization and uproot society, that they are enemies of the human race bent on a quixotic mission for nature. “Enviros” are dismissed as idealistic, young Thoreau-backs to something primitive and frightening. That’s all fear-mongering.

True environmentalism is universal, and old age is no excuse for a lack of planetary consciousness. When you stop caring, you surrender your conscience. When you stop taking action, you’ve got one foot in the grave.

Leaving the environment to “environmentalists” is to defer a life obligation. Climate change challenges everyone to be environmentalists in every waking moment. That’s the only thing that can turn it around.

A recent report states that children will bear the brunt of climate change, making the cause humanitarian, spurred with a moral imperative. Climate is potentially the most unifying challenge in human history, where people of the world come together to pledge allegiance to each other in defense of the biosphere.

That’s why a climate support group has just formed in Aspen — to help cope with trauma over a deep sense of loss and sorrow engendered by biophilia. It takes a village.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at