From the “there’s hope yet”department comes this remarkable personal story of how one environmentalist in Colorado came to embrace the very thing she had been programmed to hate: oil and natural gas extraction.
I was tipped off to this essay by Dr. Roger Piekle Jr. on Twitter:
How I Changed My Mind Without Changing My Values
In hindsight, I don’t blame them for being hostile. I was insufferable.
Their crossed arms and narrowed eyes stunned me. I was hurt, embarrassed, angry, and self-righteous at the reception I got. If only these people could understand how important this was! They needed to listen to me!
I tried different tactics to soften the atmosphere, some more effective than others. But most importantly, I learned to begin all the sessions with questions. I asked questions, and I listened — about their work, about what was important to them, about what “environmental” meant to them.
By learning the language of these oil and gas workers, by listening to their stories about their work and their lives, I quickly found common ground with them. They cared about their families and their communities. They wanted to protect them. They valued clean air, clean water, and proper management of waste. The key was changing the way I communicated.
But on this particular day in 2005, after several hours of driving on rural, two-lane highways, I pulled up to a staggering sight. Literally, as far as the eye could see, were massive wind turbines — gigantic machines that created the effect of an army of alien robots coming to take over eastern Colorado.
I exhaled and mentally fell to my knees. The sweet smell of grass, the cool breeze — and the sound! The whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the turning turbines was disturbingly disorienting. I looked to the horizon and was surprised to find that I was dizzy. This was wind energy?
It was an emotional moment, but not for the reasons I might have imagined when I decided to sign up for wind energy. I turned my attention back to the natural gas facility I was permitting. One lonely acre that had already been subjected to numerous cultural and biological surveys and a forest’s worth of paperwork requirements. Which had more overall environmental impact? I remember thinking.
I didn’t have the answers, but I knew it was time to find out.
Then came the threats. When I think about them, I still fold my body forward and round my shoulders. For more than a year, my family had regular check-ins from the Boulder County Sheriff. We removed all identifying names and numbers from our house and mailbox. Our neighbors and the Four Mile Fire Department kept photographs of the individuals who had threatened us. The boys often had a sheriff at their school, ever since one group of activists had posted pictures of them, their school, and school address online with taglines like “Disgusting.”
For several years, I stopped calling myself an environmentalist. After five years of threats, extremism, and misinformation from a community I’d once considered myself a part of, I simply couldn’t use the term anymore.
It’s easier, now, to unwind my complex relationship with environmentalism and environmentalists. I’m no longer a target of constant criticism and threats, for one, and I have the mental leisure to dissect my own experiences and prejudices. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve become passionate about reclaiming the term. I am an environmentalist.
But I can no longer embrace many of the totems that have come to define environmentalism for many people. For those of us chugging along in our liberal, urban lives, the environmental truisms are clear-cut: Recycling is good. SUVs are bad (if necessary). Light rail is good (if not always practical). Wind and solar energy are good. Fracking and nuclear energy are bad.
Highly recommended that you read this entire extraordinary essay here: https://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/no.-8-winter-2018/reclaiming-environmentalism
Then email it to your liberal friends, paste it on Facebook, make copies and mail it to people. It’s that good.