Stereotypes about environmentalists and members of the environmental movement abound; stodgy, uptight, preachy. But perhaps one of the most enduring is the myth that we are fun ruiners. We are out to destroy everything enjoyable in your life, and we will grin maliciously in the process, because we hate fun. Environmentalists have little club meetings where they discuss the fact that fun is what is wrong with the world, and develop their next fun-ruining campaign with careful planning to target it most effectively. The question we ask ourselves is not how we can help the environment, but how we can inflict misery on the maximum number of people.
Take what happened when my landlord ordered some fill sand for a project. The driver duly came out with a hopperload of something that was not, strictly speaking, or really even by any stretch of the imagination, sand. My landlord asked what it was, thinking that perhaps there was an error with the order, and that the poor driver would need to go back for a load of the right thing. But, oh not, this was what was being sold as fill sand, you see, because ‘environmentalists.’
This was about the point where I started to tune into the conversation, because my ears tend to prick at the word ‘environmentalist’ said in a very specific and spiteful tone that leads me by reflex to check for a spit puddle on the ground. Do tell, I said, leaning out my window, and the driver obligingly told, blissfully unaware of the increasingly frozen expressions on our faces as he informed us that those awful environmentalist fun ruiners made it illegal to remove sand from the beaches, even in state parks! A common resource for us all! He went to the state park once to take some sand and a ranger told him he couldn’t do that! Where, he asked us, is a body to get sand with environmentalists around, snooping around every corner and taking all that makes the world enjoyable away.
I happen to have a keen interest in beach conservation and the political issues associated with taking beach sand, both for sale and for transfer to other beaches deemed more worthy of ‘nourishment.’ Oddly enough, sand tends to be taken primarily from low-income areas and brought to high-income areas, and residents of these areas do not receive compensation for the sand that is taken. Their beaches dwindle away into nothing and it’s made clear that they are not welcome at other beaches because they are loud, or dirty, or violent, or whatever stereotype people choose to use when explaining why it is simply not possible to allow ‘those people’ onto their pristine white beaches—after all, they are a resource for everyone, but we don’t mean everyone, now do we?
And of course stripped beaches are an environmental issue. Beach habitat is complex, fragile, and interconnected. The organisms that rely on beaches need each other, and stripping beaches strips them of a home. Animals in turn that may rely on them as transient food sources are put in a fix. Those nice buffer zones created by beaches suddenly disappear, exposing communities to an increased risk of flooding, storm surge, and severe climate conditions. There are very real dangers in mining beaches for sand, in using beach sand as fill in construction projects and other things.
But obviously, it’s not these issues that environmentalists care about, it’s the possibility to ruin some fun that we’re most interested in. Beaches as a public resource aren’t the primary focus, and the idea that maybe some people would like to enjoy beach sand in situ is just silly. No, we spotted people doing something fun (something very profitable as well) and simply had to put a stop to it. Because that is what environmentalists do.
The idea of members of social justice movements as fun ruiners is certainly nothing new, but the tensions are especially stark with environmentalists. There’s a fundamentally adversarial framing that appears to be actively encouraged, where people concerned about the environment become the enemy, and everyone else just wants to have fun and is stopped by foolish and naive tree huggers who have no respect for fun, or for nice occupations like logging and fishing (obviously we must hate loggers and fishermen if we do things like encouraging the preservation of timber and fisheries in the interest of having resources available for future generations).
The tensions have always been strong here, in a community where resource exploitation was the primary income for many people and uppity hippies started whining about it without providing any meaningful alternative for the people they put out of work; now the greed of resource exploitation has effectively choked the timber and fishing industries here, forcing almost everyone into dead-end tourist jobs in a community with a spiking cost of living created by reckless promotion from tourist agencies. This is not the fault of the environmentalists, but it is sometimes framed as such. If only we hadn’t stepped in to ruin the fun, things could have kept on as they were and it might have been possible for most people to have a nice, solid, middle-class income they could use to buy a modest house and support their families. Clearly, it’s our fault that the region is primarily dependent on tourism and the marijuana industry, all because we don’t approve of fun.