The Coastal Post - September, 1996

Environmentalism Is Turning Marin Into A Rich Duck's Pond

BY STEPHEN SIMAC

Most people in Marin call themselves environmentalists; even shopping malls here advertise their environmental aesthetics. For a word which was only coined a couple of decades ago, the environmental umbrella has managed to cast enough shade for nearly everyone to huddle under, but it's still no protection against the thinning ozone layer.

Marin is not special in its environmentalist leanings; one survey showed 78% of Americans called themselves environmentalist (when told what it was), but Marin is just more extreme. This is not to condemn those individuals or organizations which have actually changed their lifestyles to less polluting modes, or made a difference in improving the health of the air, water, and earth, but many so-called environmentalists have blurred the definition of the term by using it to protect their own turf. For these people, being an environmentalist has basically meant preventing any housing being built except mansions, further securing the county's reputation as an enclave for the wealthy.

Of course these environmental groups and concerned citizens don't include gentrification on their agendas, but everyone knows that poor people pollute more, right? Look at those old cars they drive. Marin did have the good sense to stop the boondoggle of BART from tunneling under the Golden Gate into Marin in the '70s, but it wasn't because of environmental considerations used as an excuse.

They didn't want poor people who used mass transit to live here. Plenty of Marin commuters go into the city and most drive alone, some with Save the Earth bumper stickers.

When Hamilton airfield was proposed as the site of an affordable housing community in the '80s, the opposition used increased traffic pollution as a reason to prevent it. How odd that we don't see them on the bus or even ridesharing.

Meanwhile, Sonoma county, with its massive commuter crush, continues to grow out of control, providing much of the affordable housing for Marin workers. Traffic on Highway 101 is projected to be walking speed by the millennium, but you won't find many environmentalists getting out of their Cherokees and jogging to their jobs.

These Marin "environmentalists" are so opposed to affordable housing that it took 12 years for an innovative, affordable co-housing project to be built in Fairfax, a working-class town.

These "environmentalists" are quick to condemn anyone who works to create affordable housing. Marin County Supervisor candidate Steve Kinsey, who led the successful compromise to include affordable housing in the French Ranch project in San Geronimo valley, which also includes an ecological wastewater recycling system, was labeled as a "developer" because of that, by "environmentalist" opponents. The other candidate was on the board of the Bolinas Land Trust during their decade-long failure to come up with any affordable housing plan Bolinas could agree on, but she is an "environmental" lawyer.

There are poor people living in Marin, and there are a whole lot more who are barely hanging on. The transportation costs of owning a car along with the high rents make it difficult for them, but their options besides driving are extremely difficult. The Golden Gate Bridge is a well-fed cash cow even though the bus and ferry system it runs out of drivers' fees isn't horrible, unless you live in West Marin. There you only get weekend service, along with one round trip at dawn and dusk on weekdays to some areas. It used to pick up commuters in Bolinas until "environmentalist" citizens complained the bus was polluting because it idled while waiting in the morning. Or course, there weren't many people riding it at dawn, but at least they weren't driving.

It's not that Marin environmentalists are that different from the rest of the country, just more extreme. If we examine the history of the environmental movement, it is clear that the ideals of the American youth who promoted the first Earth Day in 1970 were co-opted by professional "environmentalists" who first and foremost wanted cushy jobs and comfortable lifestyles for themselves. Most of the major environmental organizations spent the next 20 years sending out direct mail marketing pleas for money. Few would admit that President Richard Nixon did more good for the environment with his clean air and water acts than all their glossy magazines filled with pictures of cuddly mammals.

Photogenic mammals are great fundraisers, but how many people would vote to save the mosquito? Yet without mosquitoes, one species after another would die off from starvation in a domino effect.

The major environmental organizations, if they accomplished anything other than feather-bedding their own retirement programs, may have saved a few marshes and woodlands. Most completely ignored the major threats to the environment of the massive military buildup, overpopulation of humans and their pets, the devastation of farmland by chemicalized agribusiness and sprawling suburban consumer lifestyles. Affordable, healthy housing for the working middle class couldn't compete with the ring-tailed macaque on their priority lists.

To be honest, these corporate environmentalists squandered the enormous energy of an tsunami wave of desire to change our headlong destruction of the planet in the '70s by acting as if the environment did not include humans. It's bare-assed hypocrisy to oppose the clear-cutting of ancient forests by sending out mass mailings on pulp paper, then drive to your suburban home to relax on your redwood deck.

In the last few years, some of the organizations have tried to reform themselves by reaching out to minorities, or placing youngsters on their board of directors, while others just totally sold out to corporate and political interests or were formed by them. Without a clear agenda other than appealing to middle class values and pocketbooks, or any principled desire to really change our destructive lifestyles, mainly opposing without proposing viable solutions, while using the natural desire of humans to create a healthier planet for themselves and their children for their own personal benefit, has resulted in public confusion as to just what does "environmentalist" mean.

Except in Marin, here it's quite clear that it means Not in My Back Yard. It means opposition to affordable housing, or alternative transportation without solutions other than go elsewhere unless you're a millionaire. There are solutions, but they won't be easy, and they will mean fundamental changes in our comfortable, American lifestyle. Without non-selfish leadership, solid education as to why and how we must change, and clear solutions to the major threats to the environment, our children and grandchildren will face a future without hope or even cuddly mammals to convince them to contribute to do-nothing environmental organizations.