Why 'Green' Is No Longer Radical Twenty-Seven Years after First Earth Day, Environment Shapes Thinking Everywhere from Classroom to Boardroom

Article excerpt

Environmental thinking has permeated American society from classrooms to corporate boardrooms, from church pulpits to the halls of Congress.

Don't believe it? Consider this.

Hardly anybody took notice the other day when Ralph Nader called the Pentagon "green." The Defense Department had announced that "in recognition of Earth Day" it would begin using recycled copier paper. The brass proudly noted that this would save 150,000 trees per year and 60 million gallons of water. Mr. Nader (the Green Party's presidential candidate last year) had one of his watchdog outfits immediately send out a press release lauding the Pentagon and urging the rest of the federal government to follow suit. Hot news? The lion and the lamb making nice? The Associated Press put out a seven-sentence story that most newspapers ignored. "It is entirely possible that when the history of the 20th century is finally written, the single most important social movement of the period will be judged to be environmentalism," sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote in 1983. Now, 27 years after the first Earth Day, that prediction may not be so radical after all. True, most news about the environment focuses on conflict. Loggers vs. spotted owls. Developers vs. conservationists. Industrialists vs. clean air advocates. But there are many places around the country where once-divided interests are quietly working things out. Developers mitigating their impact with constructed wetlands. Ranchers and conservationists crafting plans to protect endangered fish. Small towns with award-winning energy conservation programs. Many are heeding what poet, essayist, and Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry once wrote: "The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling.... Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded." Big business is making a major effort to clean up its environmental act as well. Three-quarters of all corporations now conduct environmental audits of their operations, and about half have elevated oversight of environmental compliance to their boards of directors (triple the 1990 figure). At the same time, most mainline environmental groups have come to appreciate the economic impact of environmental regulation. For several years, the two sides worked together on the President's Council on Sustainable Development. Both agreed that such regulations need to be made more flexible without letting polluters off the hook. Thousands of local events have been planned around Earth Day this year. …