Island Living: The trouble with the term ‘environmentalist’
By JOY CRIST
the other day I was piddling around on Facebook while I was supposed to
be doing something productive when I came across a very feisty comment
about the polarizing beach access issue that we’ve all been obsessed
and worried about.
not going to share the post verbatim, because it was incredibly long
and the writer kept using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to make the POINT. This
is SOMETHING I HATE because when you’re reading it, in your head, IT
SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING. DON’T DO THAT. EVER. ARGGGGHHHHHHHHH.
this poster, who had apparently vacationed on Hatteras Island before,
was VERY VOCAL about the fact that, as a naturalist and an
environmentalist, he/she believed the powers that be are doing the
right thing by closing the beaches and protecting the birds and
basically that the situation was a win for environmentalists and nature
Now, I respect everyone’s right to his or her own opinion, so long as I can tell them what it is. Just ask my fiancé.
seriously, at this stage in the game, it would be hard for me or anyone
to sway one’s very emphatic view on beach access one way or the other.
that sort of an issue where the two sides don’t cross over, and it’s
okay if I can’t convince this, or any other Facebooker, Tweeter, or
forum poster that his or her way of thinking is wrong.
But you know what I do have a huge problem with? It is the rampant misuse of the term “environmentalist.”
who has been forced to read “1984” in ninth-grade English will tell you
that your word choice carries a lot of weight. And there was probably a
very smart public relations person along the way on the beach closure
side who grabbed hold of the term “environmentalists” to attract more
people to that position. Hey, if I had limited knowledge of the issue
and only vacationed here once in a blue moon, I’d want to be on the
“naturalist” and “environmentalist” side for sure.
problem is that when one group proclaims itself to be the Protectors of
the Environment, it makes the rest of us look like beer-swilling
rednecks with gun racks and antlers on our gas-guzzling pickups, doing
doughnuts in the sand around endangered turtle nests.
So let’s clear this up right now.
beach access issue doesn’t boil down to a battle between “The Locals”
and “The Environmentalists” because I don’t recall when myself, or
anyone I know for that matter, ever declared that they weren’t an
neighbor, who has been driving on the beach since the 1970s, most
likely in the same Jeep Wagoneer that is currently serving as his yard
décor, is one of the most environmentally friendly people I know.
Everything he eats comes out of his garden. He religiously composts and
fertilizes naturally, which smells horrible when I’m upwind, and a
couple of years ago, after a hurricane, I helped him make a frantic
effort to rescue a crab that had gotten stuck in his yard in flooding
with a laundry basket. (My fiancé, who is a professional fishmonger and
steams hundreds of crabs a day, thought this was quite hysterical, and
after an hour or so, quite stupid.)
fact, if I was to describe my neighbor in one word, it would be
“environmentalist.” (If I were to describe him in six words, it
would be “guy with the awesome smelly garden.”) And, yet, as noted
above, he loves to drive on the beach and supports beach access.
personally, I’m a vegetarian and a staunch supporter of PETA, NAVS
(National Anti-Vivisection Society), and, of course, the absolutely
amazing local group, Friends of Felines, which protects but also helps
control our local feral cat population. I recycle as much as possible,
participate in beach cleanups, love planting trees -- so basically,
yeah, I’d consider myself a naturalist and an environmentalist.
And the truth is that we all are.
I know follows the informal “carry two bags to the beach” rule – one
for shells and one for trash. These folks leave their sandy area as
clean as they found it, call our local wildlife rehabilitator if they
spot an injured bird or other beach critter, and overall pay our
natural home the respect and deference it deserves.
live on the national seashore year-round, after all, so of course they
want to protect it. But to hear some people talk, we’re all reckless
folks who care more about our businesses and making money than about
somebody show me the pro-access local who is in favor of more
development and shopping centers, multi-million dollar condos
being raised throughout the island, high-rise hotels on the oceanfront,
and four-lane highways being planted in the center of the seashore in
the interest of making more money.
If you can prove this person exists, I will buy you a beer. Heck, I’ll buy you an entire bar.
don’t want more pollution, more noise, and more people. We’re
environmentalists, and we just want to get back to the way things used
frankly, as an environmentalist, I am appalled at the mass trapping and
euthanization of foxes, feral cats, geese, and all the other animals
who MIGHT have an impact on a dozen birds. Seriously, somebody has to
explain to me how forcing a “natural balance” (I wish someone would
invent a sarcasm emoticon) by eliminating hundreds of wild animals so a
few different wild animals can survive is in any way good for the
environment and is the act of a naturalist. Because it seems to me,
you’re not really letting nature take its course here.
this is just my own opinion, and my own little rant -- minus the RAGING
USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS -- and honestly I’m not trying to sway anyone to
come on over and join our side.
I would like every local out there to remember that he or she is not
fighting against the environmentalists – they’re fighting against
groups that want, for reasons they do believe are admirable, to
restrict access, euthanize threatening species, and provide more human
involvement with the survival of a few other different species.
forget that as an island resident, you’re inherently an
environmentalist and a naturalist, and I encourage everyone out there
to keep this in mind in your upcoming debates, whether it’s on
Facebook, over coffee, in an editorial, in a group crab-rescue, or in
any other medium.
love our natural island and you want to protect it. So go ahead and
state your point of view with the opening clause of “As an
environmentalist,” or “As a naturalist, I believe…” and know that you
are using the term correctly.
Just do me a favor, and don’t use all caps to do so. THANK YOU.
(Joy Crist is an environmentalist who lives in Avon.)