By David Moskowitz of Portland, Oregon. According to David, "I currently work for the Wild Salmon Center, a Portland-based salmon conservation organization. I was the Treasurer of the Measure 34 PAC. I have previously worked for the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Oregon Trout, Native Fish Society, National Marine Fisheries Service (now NOAA Fisheries), and as Salmon Recovery Coordinator for Metro."
It has been frustrating to read recent new stories about the environmental movement's declining influence in the nation's agenda. It is hard to argue that environmental issues rank equally with family, health and job security issues for most Americans. However, environmental issues are inextricably linked with these top tier issues. Do environmental professionals need to do a better job showing the link and marshaling support? More can and must be done. Are grassroots conservation initiatives dead? Absolutely not.
Most Americans assume they will have clean water coming from their faucets when they wake up, and that they will be able to breath deeply in the clear morning air when they step outside to get their morning paper (assuming they are not getting their morning news from the internet or from corporate media outlets who own both radio and TV stations in most communities).
That same American will wake up worrying about their falling standard of living and job security. Their jobs are less secure in this age of global economic change where trade agreements place more value on cheaper labor costs and relaxed environmental standards than on maintaining family wage jobs and protecting community and environmental health.
How much time can the average American give to environmental issues when their job security, wages and overtime rates have eroded in the past four years? How much time can the average American give to environmental issues when over 40 million of their fellow citizens lack access to basic health care and health insurance? When the head of a household worries about their family's economic and physical health, their first thoughts may not be about the health of the environment even if it should be.
I wonder how the average American has the time to give to environmental causes in their neighborhoods when they are bombarded by calls for help from their neighborhood schools. Our local public schools rely on parents to provide basic services in the library, lunch room and in classrooms because state and federal support for pubic schools has been systematically attacked by ultra-conservative tax reform terrorists for over a decade.
When the average American does contact their elected representatives in Congress and in their state legislatures with their concerns about eliminating or easing environmental or health care laws and regulations, typically, the only feedback comes in the form of boilerplate letters. How does the average American maintain a belief that their opinion matters when they must compete against the thousands of paid lobbyists and the millions of dollars of their spending every day in Washington DC or Salem?
How can environmental organizations avoid the media-reported perception that they are confrontational and litigious when the only news stories that receive serious attention in the mainstream media involve lawsuits or the treat of lawsuits? Rather than highlight the lawsuit and typical opposing sound bites from the usual suspects, why doesn't the media spend more time investigating and reporting on the often-flagrant disregard of federal or state environmental laws by private parties and even public agencies who are charged with upholding the public's interest and trust in protecting clean air, clean water and a healthy environment. The media's portrayal of environmentalists will more likely highlight a tree sitter than a citizen or neighborhood activist, more likely report on a contentious lawsuit than a long-term negotiation between opponents that results in a joint agreement and progress, and more likely ignore the ecological harm to the natural and human environment from poor corporate practices than report on the typical (albeit scary) harm from everyday crimes, crashes and fires.
Given the complexity and enormity of local, national and global environmental issues, environmentalist and conservationists have no choice but to continue to work steadily to protect the environment as well as to better communicate and connect with average Americans who overwhelmingly want and support clean water, clean air and open spaces protected for future generations.