Dear Sequin-Wearing Award Ceremony Audience,

Folks, we have a winnah! That’s right: The results are in from the first annual and perhaps only “Cheer Us Up the Weather Is Godawful and We’re at War” contest. We know the weather is beyond our control, but let us all work fervently to limit the possibility that we could have this contest again. If you get what I mean.

But, eager readers, back to the matter at hand. In my last column, I put out a call for a clever, meaningful word for “anti-environmentalist” — a word that would be both withering in tone and contagious in nature. Some 350 people rose to the occasion by submitting entries; a team of discriminating judges narrowed that list down to 10 finalists; and you, selective Grist readers, chose your favorite from among those. And what better moment to announce the winner (and, with it, usher in a new era in powerful pro-environment punditry) than today, April 22, Earth Day 2003. So with no further ado, the favorite entry among Grist readers was … with 570 votes … pollutocrat!

This word cleverly borrows from two different strategies I proposed for coining a new moniker for anti-environmentalists: free-associating from existing words, and cobbling together root words to form a new one. The existing word, in this case, is plutocrat — a member of the plutocracy, government by the wealthy. Needless to say, there seems to be some overlap between the plutocrats and the pollutocrats.

As for the roots of this word, let’s see what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say.

Pollute from Latin polluere to soil, defile, from por- (forth) and luere (to wash).

  1. To render ceremonially or morally impure, to impair, violate, or destroy the purity or sanctity of, to profane, desecrate, to sully, corrupt.
  2. a. To make physically impure, foul, or filthy, to dirty, stain, taint, befoul. To contaminate (the environment, atmosphere, etc.) with harmful or objectionable substances.
    b. Marked as if stained.

-cracy from Greek kratos, strength, might, rule, authority:

… the suffix, in the form -ocracy, has been added to English words, to designate in mockery or ridicule any dominant, superior, or aspiring class, as in the following … barristerocracy, brokerocracy, capocracy, millocracy, shipocracy, shoddyocracy … ; see also beerocracy, clubocracy, cottonocracy, countyocracy, mobocracy, snobocracy, shopocracy, slaveocracy, etc.

Suitably enough, this word was suggested by one who knows whereof she speaks, the brilliant Alice Veley of polluted Houston, Texas. Alice, congratulations. Your clever word has picked up on the linguistic pulse of contemporary environmentalism. It won by a veritable landslide, and was the favorite of several influential judges. As I noted in my last column, Alice will not receive a meaningless material prize, as if this were the state fair. It is our job to help Alice experience the giddy thrill of fame by using the word pollutocrat as often as possible in writing and speech until it becomes a permanent part of our lexicon, a derogatory, embarrassing, habit-changing word for those who care not a whit for the world. Alice’s prize will be influencing the media. Let’s all do our part.

Meanwhile, thanks and kudos to everyone who participated in the contest, and especially to those readers who coined the other terms that made it to the semi-finals. The favorites were, in descending order of favoriteness: biolooter, tree-thugger, ecoperp, cheney, envirobuster, denialphile, misogeoist, BAUer, and terraperd. It is only fair to mention that if we had allowed terrarist as an entry, it probably would have won by an overwhelming margin, given that it was suggested by dozens of you. (What was my personal favorite word? I thought that cheney would be the most useful insult on the street, and I am still determined to give it airplay, during the few occasions when I am actually on the street.)

Thank you for participating in our contest. I had fun, you had fun, and we all can feel a little cheerier as we merrily go about our business of saving the world from pollutocrats.

Give It Up

Now, on to other business. It was just one short year ago when Grist Magazine‘s illustrious President for Life, Charles N. Giller, approached me during my lunch break and suggested that if I would stop sending thousands of unsolicited staff memos up through the pneumatic tubes, he would let me begin this advice column. Time has flown since then. I hope that next Earth Day will find me still here with you, dearest readers. Your curiosity, humor, and fan mail are like the little bird that sings in the cherry tree.

It is only with the utmost delicacy and tact that I will now remind you that Grist comes to you day in and day out free of advertising — and free in general. How do they pull off this miracle? I have no idea (the fundraising department doesn’t venture downstairs very often), but I do know that President Giller (who does come to see me from time to time), mentioned during our last lunch that Grist is just now launching its 2003 readership fundraising drive. When those emails come in asking you to support the magazine, please think for a moment about how nice it would be if Umbra Fisk didn’t have to go on the dole. ‘Nuff said.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad-Lib World

Now, on to the third element of this column — my latest attempt to amuse and divert you during what can only be said to be a dark political time, a time when the pollutocrats are ruling with a grimy fist. My anniversary gift to you is a sort of two-for-one: a fun activity for short train trips, and a letter to your members of Congress. Those of you familiar with a popular children’s game will recognize it, renamed for our purposes Mad-As-All-Get-Out Libs.

Here’s what you do: Find some friends, read them the parts of speech in parentheses, and fill in the blanks with their suggestions. Send either the game version or a soberly revised version to your state and federal lawmakers, or whose contact information is in the front of your telephone book. Enjoy.

Happy Earth Day,
Umbra