A reader asks: Aren’t environmentalists just as guilty (as developers and business people and unions) at wanting special favors from politicians?

Two key points about this. First, the “favors” conservation activists a.k.a. environmentalists ask for aren’t usually “special” as opposed to general. When environmentalists want to stop pollution – or save open space – those are improvements that benefit the overall public good.

It’s not really asking for a favor when you’re asking politicians to do their job – which is to protect the public health and welfare.

Second, they are usually not making any financial benefit off the desired changes. They are usually applying on behalf of an overall public benefit such as clean water, or clean air or habitat for endangered species or public parks for sanity in urban environments.

These are all necessary for healthy human and natural ecosystems, not attempts to benefit a specific financial constituency.

This is not to say that there aren’t those who pursue stopping development projects directly for private benefit reasons or that all environmental proposals for solving problems are the most effective or efficient.

Unlike many other issues, environmentalists cannot achieve what is needed acting by themselves in the private sector. Which is also not to say that there aren’t many private sector solutions to many environmental problems. It’s just that on the scale of a city or a region, without standards and enforcement, history shows us that bad actors will pollute and build whatever they can.

For good or for ill, there is something called “the public good” and it’s real and some people actually do act out of the concern for our quality of life and the damage we’re doing to the natural world and not just to make money by getting the government to take actions that benefit them or their industry.

As Pat Shea noted when he attended the Kroll interview with Diann Shipione, “people are cynical and cannot understand that someone could be working so hard solely in the interest of the public.”

People are right to be skeptical, but it does happen that some people do try and protect the public interest. Most environmentalists I know try to do exactly that.

CAROLYN CHASE

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