Enviros without Empathy

A recent news report on the reaction of Maryland’s environmental lobby to Governor O’Malley’s proposed 2009 state budget spoke volumes to me about how the modern environmental movement has lost all sense of perspective.

The budget leaves $25 million in funds for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, a reduction of about $6.5 million. While Maryland environmental groups were relieved the cuts weren’t worse, they indicated they still plan to file a lawsuit in the state to force more stringent enforcement of existing environmental laws.

At the same time, the Governor’s proposed budget includes the layoffs of 700 state employees for an estimated $30 million a year in savings. Should Maryland not receive the $350 million in federal pork it hopes to receive through the so-called stimulus package in 2009, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that more state jobs could be lost. Families will be affected as people are thrown into a very uncertain job market.

In spite of these sobering facts, however, the environmental movement presses on with its “green at all costs” campaign, filing lawsuits that will cost the state time and money and, if they win, force more taxpayer funds to be allocated to enforcing expensive environmental regulations. It is commendable that they want to preserve the Chesapeake – so do I. In these tough economic times, however, shouldn’t they be more realistic and ease up the demands on an already strained budget? Shouldn’t they use the powers of persuasion rather than coercion to rally people to their cause through methods that we can all adopt and won’t drain the state treasury?

For example, if Marylanders reduced their use of lawn chemicals by one-fourth a year and switched to organic alternatives, they could significantly reduce nitrogen runoff into the Bay by 2012 . How about a public relations campaign encouraging us to adopt this voluntary and effective behavior? It wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime, the impact would be immense, and everyone could feel like they played a part in the solution.

One of my favorite sayings is by Lord Ernest Rutherford, the noted Nobel Prize winning scientist whose work in nuclear physics was essential to the success of the Manhattan Project. Much of his work was poorly funded if at all, and he believed it incumbent upon himself and his associates to be more innovative and creative in their approach if they were to succeed:

“We don’t have the money, so we have to think!”

That attitude stands in stark contrast to the single-mindedness of today’s special interest groups, for whom the only cause that matters is their own and their demands refuse to take into account the circumstances in which they and everyone else find themselves. As a friend of mine always says, “I’m sure that’s a worthy cause, but should our tax dollars be paying for it?” I’m sure the 700 state workers about to lose their jobs have an answer for that question.