In December 2006, protestors claming to represent the interests of the environment established residence in a grove of mature oak trees adjacent to Memorial Stadium in
Supporting them in their endeavor are such reputable organizations as the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, and the California Oak Foundation. The tree-sitters even have a website for their cause: http://www.saveoaks.com.
On the surface, the action of the protestors could seem like a bold, principled action to protect an important terrestrial ecosystem. Indeed, the felling of a mature oak grove is not an act to be celebrated. However, due to unintended consequences of the protestors’ actions, they are greatly damaging the cause of environmental protection, and producing a net loss to the environment.
How are the protestors unintentionally hindering sustainability efforts?
1. Promoting Sprawl: Wherever buildings are constructed, preexisting ecosystems are altered or destroyed. Construction of the athletic center on the oak grove site would preserve walkability, while an alternative site would likely involve oil-fueled, pollution-spewing transportation, and destruction of other ecosystems or natural habitats. Preservation of the of the oak grove with the consequence of a distantly-located athletic center would accomplish nothing for the environment at best, while at worst would directly harm the environment.
3. Alienating Potential Allies: Highly publicized tree-sits foster ill will and misperception of environmentalists and of sustainability, by projecting an image that environmentalists stand for plants over people, trivialities over significance, their own sense of importance over substantive accomplishments. To mobilize the public to support their interests, environmentalists need to present themselves as leaders of practicality, purveyors of sustainable solutions to that will better the world. As with any war, The Green War will be won or lost by people; therefore, to win, we must unite our potential allies towards the goal of a greener, brighter future.
4. Protest Over Progress: In the early years of environmentalism, protest was an important tool. However, protest itself does not produce solutions, and therefore is used only by the disadvantaged and powerless. Today, we can do better than protest. True greens now have the chance to become the majority, to gain unprecedented influence on the future direction of the world through traditional institutions and exercise of power. We must drive the world to a better future, because we are the only ones with the necessary knowledge and will to guide it. If we stand in the way of progress, we will perish in the ensuing fray. We must exchange protest for progress.
In my following posts, I will examine the details behind the preceding points.