Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: MLK Day Offers Chance for Environmental Lesson

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

ECOVIEWS: MLK Day Offers Chance for Environmental Lesson

Article excerpt

I once gave a talk that addressed the question "What does Martin Luther King Jr. Day have to do with environmental attitudes?" Below are the salient points of that talk.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great and special man, a teacher. Some of his teachings work for ecology as well as for race relations, such as appreciating diversity, developing tolerance, and overcoming fears and prejudices.

A parallel exists between the attitudes Dr. King worked to modify and those some people have toward environmental issues. The parallel is elementary -- people discriminate because of ignorance and a lack of familiarity or awareness of another's place in the world.

Fear, begot by ignorance, is the primary wrapping on a package known as prejudice. The consequences of opening the package are unfair treatment of others, self-induced anxiety and loss of harmony in the world.

A variety of groups, both human and wild, have suffered from environmental discrimination, some over the last few years or decades, others for centuries. Among the nonhuman victims are snakes, wolves and mountain lions. Less apparent in some instances are particular groups of people who have been victims of prejudice, including environmentalists, timber companies and private landowners. All these groups, including the animal predators, have individual members who have done no harm. Ill feelings toward them come from the fear created by a few and ignorance about the group as a whole. Every one of these groups has members who have done, and will continue to do, positive things for the environment.

A common feature leading to prejudice and discrimination against a group is a negative action by a single member or faction that is viewed as characteristic of the group as a whole. A principle of human behavior is that we judge those in our own group by their individual actions; we judge other groups by the most conspicuous traits displayed by a few individuals.

If environmentalists blow up a whaling vessel, some people then categorize anyone who protests whale hunting as an extremist. If a mountain lion kills a domestic sheep, some ranchers conclude that all mountain lions should be eliminated. …

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