It is odd how you can entirely agree with someone on the one hand, and entirely disagree with them on the other.
George Plumb of Vermonters for a Sustainable Population has penned another op ed that seems to be accusing the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Lake Champlain Committee and the entire “modern day environmental movement” of somehow having abdicated their mission because they do not make “better” the victim of “perfect.”
As an example, he once again cites the VNRC’s 50th anniversary comment which he finds objectionable:
“It is commendable that we’ve found a way to grow our economy while maintaining the health of our environment.”
Plumb quite rightly observes
“…the concept that we can grow forever with finite resources makes no sense.”
I doubt that you will find anyone who has dedicated his or her work to sustainability, who would disagree with that statement; including the environmental organizations he is challenging.
However, there are two components to the discussion which Mr. Plumb seems to ignore.
One is a simple matter of semantics.
“Growth” has come to mean different things to different actors. There is, of course, the macro on which Wall Street and the consumer economy is built; a fundamentally flawed model that ultimately is unsustainable. But “growth” has another significance in the environmental community.
Recognizing how ingrained is society’s acceptance of “growth” as a positive, Vermont environmentalists have co-opted the term and the aspirations behind it, reshaping them to refer to expansion of sustainable practices and the economic benefit available through their responsible exercise.
And that brings us to another important component of the environmental message, that seems to have escaped Mr. Plumb: the necessity to recruit support in order to effect change.
If groups like the VNRC had taken the perspective that their mission was to arrest development altogether; not only would they have been doomed to complete failure, and remained largely irrelevant in a world overwhelmingly dominated by growth initiatives; they would have seen few recruits to such a radical position and been unable to do much of anything to affect even incremental improvements over the status quo.
Mr. Plumb looks back at the Vermont he remembers from his arrival in the state in the early 1960’s and is understandably dismayed by the losses it has suffered in terms of open space, clean air and water, and the natural world.
It is a tragedy; that can’t be denied.
But to say that environmental groups have failed, and that their message should be all about acknowledging a failure, demonstrates a true disconnect with reality.
Mr. Plumb’s cup may be half-empty, and he may be preparing to leave the table; but Vermont environmentalists must necessarily view the cup as half-full, and their job: to work positively toward a better future.
We have a whole lot of work to do and face tremendous odds. No one recognizes that more intensely than do I, as I watch my surroundings disappear into the concrete gullet of Walmart.
But forgive me if I am not yet prepared to say we failed. We make ours a mission to mitigate, to educate and to advocate for meaningful reforms…a slow, thankless job that someone has to do.
We celebrate whatever and whenever we can because that is how the human spirit goes on.
I do not see any lack of acknowledgement for the overwhelming gravity of our environmental situation from either the VNRC or its sister organizations in Vermont.
And there truly are things to celebrate; like how much better Vermont has done in resisting the scale of development that is practiced throughout the rest of the country.
Sack cloth and ashes may make the wearer feel more worthy, but they do little to cultivate improvement in others.
Perhaps the zero growth model favored by Vermonters for a Sustainable Population works in some alternative universe where there is no opposing force. I, for one, could probably inhabit that universe in complete contentment.
Here in latter-day Vermont we must accept the hand we’ve been dealt and do what we can to play it well.