Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rural Environmentalists vs. Urban Environmentalists

Environmentalism is a multi-faceted movement. It has many strains and they often disagree. Many of these disagreements fall on a rural-urban divide. Urban concerns have always driven environmentalism, from the creation of national parks and hunting laws to ensure leisure for the urban upper classes to the Sierra Club's expansion in the 1950s because suburbanites wanted forest playgrounds. That doesn't mean rural people don't care about nature. Today there are many rural environmentalists and though self-identified environmentalists might be a minority in rural communities, they can certainly build bridges with conservatives who also like to be in woods and deserts.

Not infrequently, the needs of urban and rural environmentalists diverge. Recent developments in Colorado are an excellent case study. Governor Bill Ritter, who is not friendly with Colorado's not insignificant coal industry, has allied himself with urban environmentalists and the natural gas industry to promote natural gas production in the state. Urban environmentalists support this because Front Range cities suffer from bad air pollution. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal.

But this upsets rural communities because natural gas production leads to air pollution in their communities.

What to do? Producing any kind of energy has negative consequences. The question is who pays the price? In this case, it does seem that the urban dwellers have the better case--their bad affects the health of millions. And burning coal is never a good idea for nature. But this also reinforces the strong belief in rural communities that their environments are nothing more than a playground and space for exploitation by urban people. It's hard to deny that reality.