.Tales of an Eco-terrorist... well, almost. The following is a self contradictary paper for a communications class here at UW-Madison. I hope you enjoy the read.
The Navy’s recruitment posters read: “If someone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?” Well, no. So I’m writing it myself.
In anyone’s life, their parents play an important role in shaping who you will become, what your interests are and what you are exposed to. This is no exception with me, but there is an interesting quirk in the identities of my parents that leads me into my discussion of the land ethic and how it entered my life. My mother, an avid outdoorswoman and Sierra Club member met my father- just out of college after serving in the navy on the U.S.S. Whale, a nuclear powered submarine. They would later marry and become the odd combination of Sierra Club member and KNPP (Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant) employee.
My first memory of a Sierra Club event was when my father was working the refueling shift one spring and my mother was unable to find a babysitter. I rode the 30 minutes to Bluboltz Nature Center in numbing cold. My mother didn’t believe in heat. She had her winter parka on in the car, a scarf, wool hat and mittens that dwarfed the marshmallow man.
The nature center was something of a compound. It was built back into the side of a hill. Within was divided into half conference room and half display of natural artifacts. For some time, I milled about inspecting the stuffed animals: wolves, coyotes, peacocks, rodents, and other animals. I came across a deer fetus pickled in formeldihyde. The comprehensive diagram above showed all stages of deer fetus development. This particular specimen was 3 weeks from birth. I was hungry.
I ducked through the crowd of people standing in the back by the door, and found my mother. She was transfixed, staring at the speaker who was talking about deforestation in the northern part of Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. I bugged her for change to buy some cookies and she waved me off.
“When this speaker is done, I’ll go with you for some cookies, okay?” she said.
.In resignation, I sat in the cold, oversized folding chair next to her and listened to the bearded speaker talk. I should say watched. It was like a silent movie, watching the speaker parading around on the stage, obviously excited about what he was talking about, but that is exactly what made me not listen to him. His excitement on the topic he lectured made him seem like a fanatic instead of opinionated.
Even by the age of 10, I had heard about the evils of the Sierra Club, and then heard those exact points turned around by my mother who firmly believed in the cause of environmentalism. My father, by stark contrast was an employee of the local nuclear plant. He worked for the very corporation that my mother's organization was trying to tear to pieces. “Nuclear is unsafe”, they claimed. “Nuclear is unclean. Nuclear power damages the ecosystem around the plant.” Once, they actually picketed the plant, causing delays in the employees reaching the security gates.
The conflict between the nuclear plant and Sierra Club led to heated dinner conversations where I began to side with the nuclear plant. The Sierra Clubbers weren’t picketing the coal burning plant that dumped tons of toxic waste into the air every year. I did several reports on the subject for elementary school. After a small amount of research, I concluded that nuclear power was the cleanest, most viable way to produce electricity that anyone has developed yet. Wind, solar and hydro-electric all have their quirks. Some are not suited to an area, others only provide small amounts of energy. The bottom line of my argument against the Sierra Club was that they didn’t do research on the topics they supported or opposed. Fanatics without details to support them screaming at the top of their lungs. My father, a man of science calmly explained the difference between nuclear power, coal, and natural gas. The obvious choice is nuclear. The Sierra Club argues that meltdown and nuclear explosions are the risk we take. None of that is true. Safeguards prevent meltdown, and the physics of a nuclear bomb are impossible to replicate with power-grade nuclear fuel.
Too often, ignorance is the basis to an argument. Without looking into all bases of the situation, how do you call yourself educated about the topic? What I saw in the speaker’s eyes was a fire of devotion, not reason. And so, from that night on, I thought my mother was a member of a psychotic fringe group advocating the removal of some of the things that we have become accustomed to in our lavish lifestyle. The Sierra Club members went on camping trips, canoed down small rivers and enjoyed the wilderness, but not near the coal plant. The only sign of the “nuke plant” was a big concrete dome. The coal plant billowed grey smoke and had murky water in it’s circumference.
My mother, being the avid outdoor person, managed to draw my dad into the lifestyle. We went camping once a month. My parents took up rock climbing and canoeing. More of my weekends were spent camping than at home during the summer. So as my father became less of a big industry idealist, and more of a tree hugger, my mother also began to blend. When her beloved minivan finally kicked the bucket, we bought a used Chevrolet Tahoe. An SUV. One of the very things the Sierra Club despised. Thinking about this glaring contrast began to make me look back at my memories of attending the meetings. I remember all kinds of large pickups, sport utilities, and American muscle present in the parking lot of the nature center. Why, if these people were going to preach saving earth, didn’t they practice it?
“Ahhhh” I thought. “You can’t say we need cars with better gas mileage and lower emissions while you drive a ’78 Eldorado. Trade it in for a Geo!” Hypocrisies began to pile up left and right. The members would rent a Ford van and drive 400 miles to kayak on a lake in the middle of nowhere when we had hundreds of lakes within a half hour of Green Bay. Why burn all that gas and impose a human presence on a wild area when you haven’t even explored your own back yard?
Where all this takes me is learning to make my own judgements, and take nothing that anyone says as truth. Even if the speaker believes what they are saying is correct, they may be mistaken. Learning how to read between the lines of an argument, pull out the underlying motivation/s and reasoning is important. For me, it began when my parents were debating pros and cons of nuclear power at the dinner table. After I had cleaned my plate, I went to the computer and looked on the Nuclear Regulatory Comission’s website. As a non-biast government agentcy I figured they would have straight facts. Then I checked the EPA. Neither was in strict agreement with the other, but both were far from the exaggerated claims of the Sierra Club. Likewise, power companies have been known to fudge facts in order to make their operations seem more “environmentally friendly”.
By the age of twelve, I had stopped siding with the NRC. I now agree with France. That’s right, France. The French have developed a technology called a fast breeder reactor. They fission uranium238 into plutonium239 while producing power. After the U238 is spent, then the “waste” or the P239 can be fissioned again in another reactor. On average, 75% of the energy in raw uranium is used in this process as opposed to only 1% in a standard light water reactor. The only reason this technology isn’t being used in the united states? The public opinion on nuclear energy has made it impossible and unprofitable to open any new plants, much less any of an “unproven” nature. Breeder reactors have been used in Europe for more than 20 years to generate sustained power with less waste. But ignore all that, we, the American people are still reeling from the 1950’s cartoons and movies about radioactive mutants, aliens, and we fail to realize that in order to move foreward, we must rationalize our fears.
Hipocracy runs rampant in society. From politicians to the organizations that support or oppose them, and from the greatest corporations to the most insignificant individual, everyone’s opinion is based on their own personal interests, not that of anyone or anything else, and sometimes they say one thing and do the opposite.
Learn to walk through life as a skeptic. Take nothing for granted, and don’t believe hearsay until it is proven for you. Nothing could be more tragic than a dedicated human being fighting for a cause when they have all the facts twisted or wrong. Look closely at what is being advocated, decode and decipher the true motive behind the discussion. What you think is solid fact may be loosely based fiction. To quote “deep throat” from the X-Files: “Trust no one, suspect everyone.”