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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day in Charlestown

Some say there is only one environmental priority: MORE OPEN SPACE
By Will Collette

Today marks the annual Earth Day, April 22, the 42nd since the first Earth Day in 1970, which was the coming-out party for the modern environmental movement. Cathy and I celebrated it here in Rhode Island as members of Ecology Action for Rhode Island.

Earth Day marked a broadening of the environmental movement beyond its roots in nature conservation. New issues were added to the environmental agenda, including the threats caused by industrialization: toxic emissions and nuclear waste getting into our land, air and water – and our bodies.

Broader issues of energy use, population growth, hazardous waste, consumer consumption, urban sprawl, global warming and even wars and nuclear proliferation brought millions of new people into the world of environmental action.


I worked in the environmental movement, off and on, for over 40 years, almost exclusively on these issues that achieved public importance after the first Earth Day. I remember the tensions that existed (and still exist) between the new environmental organizations that began to challenge the old-line conservation groups for public support – and funding.

The old conservation groups didn’t like our rowdiness, our willingness to use classic community organizing tactics and corporate campaigns to fight big polluters. Indeed, many old-line conservation groups counted on many of these big polluters as major donors.

On Earth Day 2012, the “modern” environmental movement is not what it used to be. Earth Day is no longer the militant celebration it once was.

Today’s Earth Day more closely resembles “Presidents’ Day” in that it serves more as a platform to advertise and sell more and more allegedly “green” products than it is about challenging environmental bad guys. Though of course the greenest product of all is the one you don’t buy in the first place.

In Charlestown, there is only one litmus test to be an “environmentalist.” It’s this question: “Do you support the expansion of Charlestown’s open space without reservation, hesitation or consideration about cost?”

If you say “no,” you cannot be an environmentalist, according to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance. Open space ├╝ber alles!

In Charlestown, you cannot be an “environmentalist” and support green, alternative energy. Lighting other than sunlight or moonlight is bad – blackouts are the only truly dark-sky-friendly way to go. Forget about biofuels, because processing them might require building some sort of industrial facility.

You can’t be in favor of decent sanitary facilities at the beach even if they use composting toilets, because that just encourages more people to use our beaches and the last thing we want is more people in Charlestown, even just for the day. You can’t be in favor of recreational events in our town park because people having fun tend to get noisy.

If you support affordable housing or smart growth, you are a “wealthy developer,” not an environmentalist. True Charlestown “environmentalists” include wealthy vacationers who buy small water-front cottages, tear them down, build McMansions and then demand that the town surround their estates with open space. 

You may not support construction in any shape or form – unless it is done by hand, with “traditional” materials (not brick) you pull from the earth via Home Depot and on a building permit that stays open for ten years or more.

You must fight tooth and nail against any project in Charlestown that is designed for the use or benefit of children, since we do not want to encourage the little buggers to live here. Kids playing sports = bad. Only hiking and biking are proper outdoor recreational activities.

You must not trust any Charlestown homeowner or business to behave like a good, green citizen, so it is imperative that Charlestown regulate every minute facet of its denizens’ lives. Except for recycling – which for some reason Charlestown “environmentalists” ignore, perhaps stemming from 1986 when Charlestown tried to get the state to exempt us from the new recycling law, arguing that our summer residents won’t recycle (true story – Charlestown DPW Director Alan Arsenault letter to DEM, October 26, 1986). 

You must work hard to spread the Charlestown environmental gospel to all corners of Rhode Island that wind energy is bad, affordable housing is bad, and smart growth is bad and ignoring the need to monitor groundwater contamination from an old Charlestown landfill with a history of taking industrial waste is good.

At least that’s what our CCA town leaders would have you think. For me, I know there is more to being an environmentalist than pushing ever more open space purchases, or looking at the stars or our extraordinary array of wildlife.

As much as I love the heavens and our natural environment, there is far, far more you need to do to earn your environmental cred than worship grasshopper sparrows at the site of a nuclear accident.

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