Urban sprawl, traffic congestion, smog, acid rain, polluted waterways, garbage dumps, strip mines...
I think a majority of people would agree that these are undesirable problems. Environmentalists certainly agree that these are undesirable problems. So why don't most people consider themselves environmentalists?
Unfortunately, I think environmentalism is seen by many as an extreme position due to the fact that most people (especially in the U.S.) suffer from one or more of the following delusions:
Delusion #1: There's nothing I can do about it.
This can usually be translated as "I'm too lazy to do anything about it". One person can cause quite a commotion, as anyone who's been around a screaming baby or an obnoxious drunk can attest to. And even if you can't effect change as an individual, you most certainly can as a member of a larger group. You can become active in a local, national, or international group...or at least support one politically or financially.
Delusion #2: It's not bad enough to do anything about it (yet).
This is the kind of thinking that gets a person $20,000 in credit card debt and 60 pounds overweight. It usually goes something like this: "Ohh, I'll start eating right and exercising tomorrow. I'll start worrying when loggers have finished off the forests and have started cutting down the trees in my front yard in order to build a new apartment complex in my backyard." It's called short-term thinking. Shortsightedness. Naiveté.
Delusion #3: It's not happening to me (yet), so everything's ok.
This is just a twist on Delusion #2. People afflicted with this delusion believe that if the dump is over on the "bad side" of town or way outside the city limits, everything's just peachy. As long as the metroplex doesn't swallow up that cute little outlying town, all is well. As long as overpopulation or a derth of natural resources remain problems of countries on the other side of the world, it's business as usual. It's the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. It shows a total lack of foresight, prudence, and preparedness.
Delusion #4: Fixing the problem will cripple the (local, national, world) economy
This belief shows a lack of understanding of the constant nature of change present in a market economy. When legislation and/or competition (both outgrowths of the people's will) brings about the need for environmental improvements, it represents a shift in the market. Businesses must react or suffer the consequences. Those that react quickly will reap the benefits. Those that do not will suffer. No one cries over the destruction of the horse-and-carriage industry by the auto industry. And no one should cry if old school companies/industries suffer while environmentally savvy companies/industries profit.
In the 1970's when the government pushed the auto industry to switch to unleaded gasoline, there was tremendous resistance, but today we're all breathing easier and the auto industry is doing fine.