Environmentalists are Real People Concerned about Earth and Posterity

by S. Tom Bond on January 22, 2014

Who’s an environmentalist? What do they believe?

Commentary by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV
After a recent article about the damage I expected from fracking on my farm, in some quarters there is this stir about whether I am an “environmentalist” or a (farming) businessman who expects to get his capital slashed and his production reduced for years with little or no compensation.  Let me assure anyone who doesn’t understand, “environmentalists” are like Methodists, they have an occupation, too.
Environmentalism is a belief system, and people of many occupations “believe” in it.  There is a fellow named Harry in Ohio who used to grow organic ginseng who got acres of a sensitive crop, carefully managed, ruined. Another in Ohio is a lady that runs a restaurant on a university campus.  There are wineries in southern New York and at least one in eastern Maryland owned by environmentalists. There are organizations of chefs in New York and California who don’t want their food contaminated, thus identify themselves as environmentalists.
The Eastern Brook Trout People, Trout Unlimited and Isaac Walton League are made up of environmentalists, as are hunting groups, in part because they have a self-interest in their recreation.  So also are groups who want to preserve National Forests, state and local parks, cemeteries and churchyards.  People who worry about public water supplies, destruction of the nature of their communities, such as the Finger Lakes of New York. There are many of this genre who are environmentalists, in part because of the damage they have received or seen.  There are at least two groups of professional scientists  strictly devoted to environmental problems of fracking, and several faith groups have expressed concerns.  There’s even a Mothers for Sustainable Energy (fracking is one of their concerns) that certainly would be called environmental.
You get the idea, lots of different people are environmentalists.  Lots of kinds of people.  Some do make a living in environmental leadership.  Of course Methodists have pastors, and environmental groups have paid, full time leaders.  Like pastors, the pay is low and the hours are erratic, and they tend to be dedicated to their belief. 

Let’s describe the belief system.  Environmentalists value clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, cook with, wash in and swim in.  They know there is a mechanism by which these things are produced in nature.  The mechanism involves living plants and some animals, and a huge variety of microorganisms.  They know that the basis for all life is chemical – that is, every real thing is chemical.  And environmentalists know this chemistry can be interfered with.
Beyond this, many realize life is a closed loop of very complicated reactions.  I’m not saying the moral and social worlds don’t exist, indeed they do. What I’m saying is that if it is actually living – including you and me and our ancestors and our descendants – it is part of the reactions (some still unknown) called biochemistry.  Outside this loop lies what I will call the mineral world, other chemicals in rocks and those synthesized by humans.
Energy enters this loop of life by photosynthesis using light from the sun, and leaves as heat radiated out into space, which is much colder than the earth’s surface where we live.
Investigating this loop of life, usually small parts of the whole total of life, is the work of a significant part of the world’s scientists today.  It consists of reactions which occur because of enzymes.  Wikipedia has this to say about enzymes: “They are highly selective catalysts, greatly accelerating both the rate and specificity of metabolic reactions, from the digestion of food to the synthesis of DNA. Most enzymes are proteins, although some catalytic RNA molecules have been identified.”  Also, “Since enzymes are selective for their substrates and speed up only a few reactions from among many possibilities, the set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways occur in that cell.” 
On the other hand, the chemicals synthesized by humans are usually produced by heat, pressure and much more crude, non-biological catalysts.
The long and the short of it is – these biochemistry reactions, particularly the enzymes, are easily “screwed up.”  Frequently, a small number of synthesized chemicals “tie up” or otherwise destroy biochemicals from the loop of life.  In more common words, act as poisons.  They prevent some of the necessary biochemical reactions from happening.
So what is environmentalism?  It is a belief system that doesn’t put first priority on profit and growth to get more profit.  Its time scale extends beyond the current business investment cycle.  It recognizes the importance of a good life for other people.  It recognizes that life has a long history, but the prognosis isn’t good if we all don’t understand what is going on.  The precautionary principle is an important part of it.  (Wikipedia definition of precautionary principle: if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.)
This is a belief system and commitment that seeks a good future for our children and our children’s children.
The Freedom Industries’ major chemical leak debacle recently contaminated the Elk River and Kanawha River here in West Virginia. After this, do you really think we don’t need protection from the chemical industry, the coal industry, the fracking industry?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Yuri Gorby January 23, 2014 at 9:50 am

With regard to the recent Freedom Spill, an environmentalist might question whether the proper response was to flush contaminated water, which was contained waste stream within the water distribution, back into the environment. The downstream environmental impacts may never be known.

An environmentalist might also ask “what should we be testing for in surface and groundwater resources?” If we don’t look for it, it’s can’t hurt us, right?

Thank you for another great piece, Tom.


Bill Henry January 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Well said, Tom.

Thanks for writing this down,

So it can be seen in print.

Regards, Bill Henry, Beaver County


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