Meet the new eco-terrorists: Us
By Anne Felker —
Words matter. That’s why I noticed the words “eco-terrorist” and “eco-terror” the other day in the reporting of the arson of a number of houses in a development being built in Maryland. The development, “Hunters Brooke”, borders a magnolia bog, an environmentally sensitive rarity, and has been fought for years by locals. Thirty houses were set afire; 10 went up in flames.
The Lehigh Valley is no stranger to development. Living with this transformation makes me think twice before accepting the eco-terrorism label. Consider what we’ve witnessed. In the last decade or two, the farmland that used to surround our small towns and cities has been replaced by industrial parks and oversized, boxy houses. The air quality is visibly impaired.
The loss of farmland and environmentally balanced habitat is not merely an esthetic issue, but a matter of survival. The simple fact is, food does not come from the grocery store and the restaurant. It comes from the dirt, and only after application of much careful thought and hard work. And, it keeps coming only when the land is replenished, with a treatment balanced and sustainable over the long term. Where do we think our food is going to come from, as we destroy so much farmland and treat what remains with the unsustainable ways of high-yield industrial farming?
The answer is obvious. Our food is coming from elsewhere. South America has had phenomenal growth as a net producer of food. ”In June,” said a recent report in The New York Times, “The United States imported more in farm products than it sold abroad.” Brazil, already the world’s biggest exporter of chicken, orange juice, sugar, coffee and tobacco, last year surpassed our own country in beef exports. This intense production, unfortunately, is based on the same debt-leveraged industrial farming practices financed by Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill that have put so many small American farmers out of business. Add in the wholesale destruction of the Amazonian rain forest.
One might say, what’s the big deal if my peppers and tomatoes come from Chile, Mexico or Lehigh County? First, in taste, look and nutritional value, food that has been shipped thousands of miles is inferior to that which comes from our own back yards. Second, a distant food supply is a vulnerable one. Just as our dependence on foreign oil creates uncertainty, having to rely on distant food sources creates danger.
The final reason a local food supply is a necessity is the most powerful: What we grow and produce is an expression of who we are. It is a large part of our culture. It is a source of the deepest satisfaction and pride. If you doubt this, go to the Allentown Farmers’ Market or the Emmaus Farmers’ Market or the Patch of Stars goat farm outside Nazareth and ask people why they are there. Or, ask yourself how you feel as an American, knowing we now import more than we export, that we take more than we give.One might also say, people have got to live somewhere. Certainly they do. But our towns and cities have plenty of housing, and they are crying for attentive homeowners. If we looked at housing choices with an ethic of sustainability — that is, from the perspective of whether the world could survive if everyone chose as we did — there wouldn’t be any housing development called Hunters Brooke. But we have instead allowed our personal decisions to be permeated by the corporate ethic that says we need only consider what is in our own interests. As long as no one can prove that our particular huge home ruined the bog or the farm, we can get away with it.
I am not hopeful that we have the leadership or discipline to keep ourselves from destroying all that sustains us. Nonetheless, the development we’ve seen in the Lehigh Valley and the consequent losses in farmland and local self-sufficiency make me sensitive to those who would protect the environment. The charge of eco-terrorism is potent; since 9/11, we’ve come to a hard-earned appreciation of the damage wrought by those who bypass the accepted norms of persuasion for extreme, often violent methods to meet their goals. Setting 30 houses on fire is no small matter.
Still, is the eco-terrorist the one who sets the fire to halt the development and protect the bog? Or is it those who, as a matter of daily business, actually destroy the land for no more noble cause than profit?
Or, is it you and I who have so removed ourselves from the day-to-day necessities so that we don’t know that vegetables and grains come from dirt, milk and cheese and butter come from cows and goats, and meat comes from all sorts of animals that are killed in the process of arriving on our table?
Anne Felker of Nazareth is an attorney.
Morning Call, January 2, 2005