Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Resurrection of Environmentalism?

In the year and a half since Shellenberger and Nordhaus released their famous (or infamous depending upon your viewpoint) essay on the “Death of Environmentalism” it has almost seemed like environmentalism has in fact died. There have not been large scale protests like the ones that lead up to and followed the WTO meetings in Seattle (at least not here in North America). And although there have been blockades in the forests they are much smaller than the “war in the woods” that occurred during the 80s and 90s.

Environmentalists (and other activists) that I have talked to lately have been bemoaning both their own apathy and the apathy of others. The local weekly newspaper here even had an article in their most recent edition called “Apathy is the new activism

But perhaps the “Resurrection of Environmentalism” occurred Easter Monday in a most unusual location – West Vancouver, Canada's richest municipality.

Hundreds of people gathered to protest the logging and construction of a highway through Eagleridge Bluffs, a scenic area with a sensitive ecosystem that a couple of endangered species inhabit. Ironically the destruction of the Bluffs is part of perpetration for the 2010 Olympics which are being billed as the “sustainable” olympics.

Of course there have been protests against logging before. But there a couple of things that make this one unique.

First it is not on some remote logging road, but on the edge of an urban area. Nearby homeowners can camp over night in the tent city that has sprung up but still go home for a shower.

Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), the protesters themselves are unusual. Many are professionals with above average incomes who have never been to a protest before. And some have said they are willing to be arrested if that is what it comes to. And this group has been joined by more seasoned activists – some who have spent years fighting clear-cut logging in the wilderness.

At the rally on Monday I was talking to a couple of other activists from east Vancouver. One of them remarked at how different this protest seemed from others she had been to. “If feels like a church picnic,” she said.

In my mind this protest is not without its problems. The coalition that is organizing the protest is suggesting a 4 lane tunnel as the alternative to the destruction of the bluffs. Of course this solution does nothing to address climate change issues and other forms of pollution from increased traffic on the expanded highway. I think that the only truly sustainable solution is to introduce good passenger rail service and improved public transportation along the corridor.

But perhaps the unique and diverse group of people congregating at Eagleridge Bluffs is an example of the “expansive vision” that Shellenberger and Nordhaus described in their essay.

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