"W" is for we

"We thought we had the answers. But it was the questions we had lost." - Bono

by Robert Nanninga
irst of all let me thank the Earth Times readers who wrote in to take me to task on last month's article (I is for Isolation.) As it turns out, I was doing exactly what I was accusing Christians of doing, that is, setting them apart from the rest of us. I was letting ideology interfere with my message. The intent of my column is to encourage a conversation, and boy did that happen!
From a bit of name calling by a member of the clergy, to a compassionate letter from a young Jehovah Witness from Vista, all required me to step back and review what I was trying to say. Looking back, I realize that I failed in my attempt to bring people together in the name of environmental awareness, and for that I am truly sorry.
Shortly after responses to the article started to arrive, I began to have very weird dreams. Or, more accurately, an ongoing dream that replayed itself night after night. In this dream, I am trying to reshape animals to suit how I thought they should be. Sort of like Gumby meets the Grateful Dead. In the dream, I was discussing how DNA was too slow; I was determined to have my Evolution fix. After about the fourth night, I got the message: that by trying to change something that is not in my power to change, I give up the opportunity to alter that which is ripe for transformation. How's that for a revelation?
A case study is my recent rafting trip in Idaho. The people who shared this wilderness experience with me represented a cross section of America. There was the Jewish family from New York, the divorced dad from Minneapolis spending time with his daughter, and an inner-racial couple and their kids from the San Francisco Bay area. We were all quite different, yet profoundly connected by the thing that brought us together, the Salmon River.
Every night after dinner we would gather around the campfire. We would start to discuss immediate topics, such as how there were no salmon left in the Salmon River. Conversation would then turn to local issues that we shared: hellish commutes, over-development, and questionable water quality. This brought home the point that this is more than a case of Christians not doing their part. This was about all of us not rising to the challenges facing us.
Inspired by insights from Wendell Berry's article, "The Obligation of Care" in the Sept./Oct. edition of Sierra Magazine, it is clear to me that we must come together as environmentalists. By organizing the power of grassroots to reign in those who seek to squeeze the last ounce of profit from our threatened planet, we can assure that there is a healthy future awaiting the children of Christians and Pagans, Sikhs and Muslims. One thing I failed to notice is that all theologies have a lot to offer the Green movement, and by criticizing them for perceived shortcomings, I weaken the effectiveness of the whole. I should have been using this column to bring attention to the work being done, not chastising those doing the work.
There is nothing like two weeks in the wilderness to bring priorities into focus. Recreating in clear water of the Middle Fork made me angry about the levels of water quality that we are willing to accept here at home. Deciding that San Diego tap water was unfit to drink, I switched to bottled water, instead of demanding that our elected officials do something to improve water quality. This is a vital issue, not for the people who can afford to have clean water delivered to their homes, but for those people who will only see the Sparkletts man on TV in between commercials for Pepsi and Coke. It is a tragedy of the commons when clean water becomes a luxury.
America is at a point in history that will decide the quality of life for generations to come. If we allow the Republicans currently in power to force their agenda down the throats of the American people, we have no one to blame but ourselves. President Clinton plans to veto the Young-Pombo endangered species "reform" bill, HR 2275, because according to Asst. Interior Secretary George Frampton the bill "abandons this country's support for the conservation of endangered plants and animals" and would "result in costly bureaucracy while providing virtually no protection for wildlife." Other bills going to the President's desk reduce funding for the protection of endangered species, make concessions sought by logging, mining and ranching interests, and significantly cut into conservation programs. Another special interest rider would open the biologically rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to resource development interests.
What we can do is call or write our Senators and Congressional representatives and let it be known that as voters and taxpayers we demand that they take an active roll in protecting the environment. We can also call the White House to voice our opposition to efforts to roll back environmental regulations and encourage President Clinton to use his veto power.
Locally, we also must make a stand. City Councils who promote over-development must be put on notice that this is no longer acceptable. As elections role around there is a need for volunteers to help get the word out about the issues. Education is power. We need to counter the propaganda which tells Americans that protecting the environment will cost them their jobs. We need to be twice as loud when the Wise Use lobby starts their fear campaign, saying that denying people "rights" to fill in wetlands, shoot wildlife, or dump toxins is un-American. The Green Movement must assert that greed and disregard do not a patriot make.
I think the irony in this whole battle is that the term "conservative" used to be a term that described people trying to protect the environment. The ethics of Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold were based on the preservation and protection of the natural world. Their idea of stewardship had nothing to do with the wholesale liquidation of our biological heritage to wealthy and powerful interests. As long as old growth forests, mountains and rivers are considered resources, they will not be treated with the reverence they deserve as watersheds and life-support systems. It is time those of us who see a future with tall trees and open spaces stand up to the corporations and the industrial bully boys and their puppets in Washington and say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH"
Lines are being drawn. Either America rises to the challenge of protecting the rights of future generations, or we drown in our own selfishness. Sink or swim, those are our choices, and whatever the choice, we are all in this together.
The Congressional switchboard is (202) 224-3121; The White House comment line is (202) 456-1111. Call now. Call often. It can make a difference.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and active member of the Green and environmental community.