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Misconceptions About Good Environmentalism

First, a personal confession: A few years back, the business of being a good environmentalist seemed, to me, a straightforward affair. As I weighed one issue after another, the world could be seen in just two colors””green and ungreen””which corresponded to two moral states: good and ungood. It was easy to distinguish one from the other. My thinking would run along lines like this: Trees are good, so the companies that chop them down are not. Or like this: Rivers are polluted, so the fault must lie with the most obvious, nefarious-looking suspect””discharge pipes at waterside factories.

  When I spoke up at cocktail parties back then, it was with confidence. I'd read a book or two, hadn't I? And didn't I subscribe to greenish magazines full of hyperbolic screeds against greedy corporations? My confidence was badly misplaced. This I learned in recent years, first by signing on for a series of classes at Johns Hopkins University in an attempt (still ongoing) to earn a Certificate in Environmental Studies””and then by pursuing work writing about environmental issues here in the Chesapeake Bay region. As I waded into these deeper waters, I began to see a much murkier world than the one I'd known before. Some of the truths I'd regarded as self-evident turned out to be half-baked. New knowledge came in shades of color I couldn't quite pigeonhole as green or ungreen. I'm no expert yet, not by a long shot. So when I set out to write a story identifying a few of the public misconceptions about the environment that linger to one degree or another, I turned to real experts for help. I asked them about their cocktail-party experiences: What sorts of things did well-meaning, green-leaning lay people like me say that were misguided, or just plain wrong? Eventually, this led to the seven misconceptions that follow. They're not meant as an exhaustive list of every conceivable mistaken belief. Nor are they presented as incontestable facts, each beyond debate in every detail. Consider them instead as brief glimpses into that murkier world where, sometimes, it's not so easy being green.

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