Environmentalists need to be reasonable

Environmentalists have done a great deal to raise awareness of old-time practices that harm the earth and threaten wildlife. At times, however, some extremists have fought some of the efforts their advocacy has created.

This has only slowed down progress that could bring the results they wanted, and prolonged the very actions and policies they oppose.

Examples abound, the most obvious of which involves the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Opposition to drilling and extraction in U.S. waters — where reserves are known and some already have been tapped — has driven explorers farther out into deeper waters, where risks are higher. Certainly, accidents can happen anywhere, but projects are much less risky in shallower waters. Containment and cleanup also are easier when emergency rigs can be set up faster and safer.

This opposition also contributes to the large amount of oil that U.S. companies buy from foreign sources (our badly named “dependence on foreign oil”).

Responses to environmentalists’ concerns about fossil fuels are themselves finding resistance. The government has been pouring taxpayers’ money into wind farms, but those very answers are now drawing opposition. Many don’t like the possibility that a wind turbine blade might whack a careless bird that flies into the rotors’ radius.

Bioengineering especially seems to terrify the green groups, with tragic consequences. They have opposed genetic engineering, radiation and other technologies that improve crop output and reduce spoilage, which could feed more people and help reduce hunger worldwide.

Even efforts to save the rainforests — one of environmentalists’ favorite causes — have found resistance. Timber and paper companies have invested much time and money looking for alternatives for hardwood fiber for paper and other uses. They include farming of fibrous plants like kenaf, a relative of the hibiscus plant that is grown in Willacy County and elsewhere. Another product getting attention — and opposition — is eucalyptus.

U.S. Agriculture Department approval of trials to plant trial groves of the fast-growing tree have drawn fire from environmentalists, even though the approval is only for tests and its success could reduce the cutting of hardwood trees for paper and other products. ArborGen, the South Carolina-based company investing in the test, plans up to 29 test groves, two of them in East Texas.

Environmentalists oppose the plant because it is not native to the test areas and they fear they will take over their habitats. The permit, however, is for trees that are genetically engineered so that the plant invests its energy into growing more fibers rather than setting seed.

Les Pearson, ArboGen’s director of regulatory affairs, said his company, and others, already have run tests on the eucalyptus for several years, and environmentalists’ fears have been addressed.

“It’s been grown in Florida, it’s been grown in Brazil,” Pearson said. “It’s not invasive at all.”

He said the plant is valuable because it grows fast and can be harvested sooner, and crops rotated faster, than hardwood trees.

Every creature, every plant and every microbe leaves an imprint on the earth. There is no way we can live without using some of the earth’s resources. Environmentalists can help us recognize the amount of damage that some industries have wrought. Impeding advancements that lessen that damage, however, only works against their stated purpose.

Like those they so loudly criticize, they need to be reasonable in their actions.