ANSWERING LEON KOLANKIEWICZ BELOW IN HIS RESPONSE TO MY ANALYSIS OF THE CLASS DIVIDE IN ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS
And thank YOU for your insights. I will do well to post them as addendum to mine. Middle class people do not have a monopoly on nature appreciation. The war against growth must not be fought on the backs of the poor. Everyone must share the burden--- “each according to their ability to pay”. Just as the Sierra Club calculated that they needed Hispanic support to fight the various causes they were advancing in California in the 90s and the new millennia, then they should also realize that working class support and involvement should be valuable and essential in fighting for those same causes. The class divide is just as damaging as the ethnic divide to coalition building. Suzuki’s attitude crystallizes the attitude of the movement, and is reflective of the membership base. They are not people who watch NFL Sunday football or listen to Country music. (neither do I ) But they are people who should recognize that workers have a valid perspective. Certainly on how a resource might be better managed to achieve the same results we do in a way that neither the corporations prescribe or the environmental NGOs thought of. And as you say, the rank and file want population stabilization. The polls confirm this consistently. Sure steel workers litter. But rich people litter on a grander scale but in a more much discreet fashion. As you know. Tim
Good insights, Tim. The environmental establishment and greens certainly deserve this whupping for their neglect and disrespect of the working class.
As an ambivalent environmentalist, I myself confess to some ambivalence about the working class and the environment. On the one hand, I recognize that the (at least white) working class, aka "Joe Six-Packs", formed the basis of support for the notorious Sarah Palin candidacy, the so-called "Guys Luv Gals Who Luv Guns" (an actual poster at a Palin rally) and "Drill, Baby, Drill!" demographic. On the other hand, I recognize that when it comes to immigration, the rank-and-file working class (NOT the unions who purport to stand up for their interests) is our greatest ally.
I remember a story a B.C. friend told me almost 30 years ago, at a time when the Tsitika River watershed (last unlogged watershed on the east coast of Vancouver Island) was slated for logging by Mac-Blo, and they proposed to place their log-handling operation smack dab in the middle of Robson Bight, where something like 1/3 to 1/2 of the entire coastal BC orca population gathered every year. My friend attended a public meeting somewhere on the northern part of the island (Kelsey Bay?) and told me how many working people in the logging industry itself were opposed to the Robson Bight plan, because of its potential adverse impact on orcas. It was heart-warming. And if memory serves, this was eventually scratched because of strident public opposition, although the Tsitika was logged (no one was opposing that per se).
I feel lucky that years ago, I got to work for awhile in one of the fabled and long-gone steel mills that once upon a time hogged the banks of Pittsburgh's polluted Monongahela River. Toiling in the black fumes surrounding the coke ovens, every time I blew my nose, it was filled with black crud, which thank goodness my nose was filtering out before it reached my lungs, though some undoubtedly did. Anyway, it was terrific exposure to the belly of the industrial beast that was America, before most of that withered away or was cleaned up.
It was also exposure to the proletariat in a way I never had been as a middle class kid from the suburbs. I remember vividly the arguments I got into with some of my co-workers over (if you can believe it) littering (!) inside the steel mill, where everything was covered with black ash anyway. But in one little hut directly above the river, where I used to eat lunch with the guys, it irked me that they would toss their trash right over the railing into the river, at a time when a major civic effort was being made to clean it up and improve Pittsburgh's image and health. I broached the need not to trash the Monongahela with my fellow workers without trying to be obnoxious, but they ignored or laughed at me. (Why should they listen to some idealistic, goody-two-shoes 19 yr. old kid from the suburbs?) I then went to a supervisor to complain, and to request simply that a trash can be placed in this hut that could be used and emptied on a regular basis, so people didn't throw litter into the Monongahela. He grunted and said there was already a trash can in the room. I discovered that he was right - it's just that it was well hidden behind a door that was always propped open, and it was stuffed with trash that was years old; that's how long it had been since anyone had used it. So I moved it into the open and encouraged folks to use it, and I emptied it myself.
Nowadays, although I hobnob with Inside the Beltway types and intellectuals, as well as government apparatchicks, the time I spend with field biologists on national wildlife refuges and even with my separated wife (the Honduran I've writtten of), who is a hair-dresser, tends to keep me honest.
I write all of this by way of saying that while I remain doubtful about whether or not the working class is about to follow the activism and writings of Paul Watson or Tim Murray, I am with you 100% in your smack-down of Suzuki and the Green Party's contempt for average working people. I think it was way back in BC that I first began to become aware of the elitist environmental movement's (and my own incipient) tendency to look down its nose at working class and rural Americans. And now it disgusts me. Yet the wrinkle added in the 1990s - so-called environmental justice movement -- is even more disturbing because of its hypocrisy. As a result of pressure from this movement, Hispanic loggers in New Mexico are treated with kid gloves by sensitive, PC enviros while Anglo loggers in the Pacific Northwest can still be villified with impunity in elite circles as bubbas and rednecks.
Although in principle a wilderness enthusiast, I am supportive of the idea of "working forests" and rural livelihoods that do indeed have some environmental impacts, but may also sustain traditional livelihoods and cultures for many people across the land. In long-settled New England, there seems to be a well-established respect for working forests and the like, although tensions remain. Likewise in the "New West" (i.e., the American Rocky Mtn. West), where there have been conflicts between more environmentally enlightened newcomers (many fleeing California) and old-timers, my sympathies as often as not lie with the old-timers, even though they may be loggers, miners, and grazers, the unholy trinity to enviros.
HOWEVER, KEITH H, A VETERAN BIOLOGIST, RESPONDED WITH THIS VIEW:
I am reminded of working with commercial fishermen on Lake Winnipegosis about 20 years ago. They wanted to see the cormorants persecuted for taking too many fish (if course, declines in the fishery had nothing to do with them!). Garbage would be neatly placed in a large plastic garbage bag, tied, and the tossed overboard. These were guys from families who had lived beside the lake for generations. In their fishing, they hit the resource as hard as they could and they treated the Lake like a garbage dump, even though it was their source of income.
So, while I am sickened by the middle class inheritance of the enviros, there is something deeply tragic about the bravado of the male working class who see stewardship of the environment as some sort of girly pursuit. Fishermen, farmers, ranchers, loggers, all contain an element who see the need to work out their class struggles by trashing the environment.
Many exceptions of course and I must admit to an affinity toward those working stiffs who often have a much more profound understanding of the natural world than the urban green types. However, there are real horror stories on both side sof the tracks.
TO WHICH LEON RESPONDED:
I appreciate Keith's honest and balanced response to your piece. His experience with commercial fishermen on Lake Winnipegosis in Manitoba does not strike me as out of character, unfortunately. I remember learning the slang term "salt chuck" on the BC coast, which one commercial fisherman told me originated from their habit of chucking all trash, fish waste, rubbish, and even used-up equipment offal overboard into the water.
And to which I will re-iterate, my point here is not to replace the middle class on their undeserved pedestal of green heroism with the working class, but to dethrone them and to elevate the workers to level of respect that is their due. No higher, no lower. Just as the class struggle is not to be fought on the back of the environment, the environmental sacrifices must not be fought disproportionately on the backs of a class of people who have historically borne more than their share already. Let the Green Icons lead by example. Ghandhi did. Nader does. Why not they?