A great story in the now-threatened L.A. Times focuses on a heroic small business in Rancho Dominguez in Southern California called Advanced Cleanup Technologies.
This 14-year-old firm can get 30 calls a day, to clean up every kind of toxic spill you can imagine.
They’ve long pioneered new clean-up and pollution-control methods, and now they’re trying to scrub the fuel-oil smokestack emissions from ship engines that have been fouling air at ports for years.
A Port of Long Beach official is calling their new barge-based system a potential “major breakthrough.”
All that’s great, and what Ruben Garcia and his team have done is admirable, and maybe even incredible.
But that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about a word — the word used to describe our movement and people like us.
At the very end of the story, an engineer for the company declares that because their technology can reduce 90% or more of emissions of three major pollutants, “if you’re an environmentalist, you’re going to want this.”
True. I do want this. And, more fundamentally, I expect that anyone who breathes and lives or works near or at a port will surely want this pollution control, and as soon as possible.
But what did you just call me?
If I call myself an environmentalist, I’m using pretentious diction, for the sake of vagueness. That’s what George Orwell would say, and rightly so. (“The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.”)
I’m choosing an empty word — environs — on which to center my political identity. It comes from an old French word that means “round about,” with references to “circle” and “turn.” It’s rarely used in English.
Environs means essentially: that which surrounds us.
But can you imagine calling yourself a “surroundalist”?
Can you imagine claiming you’re passionate about “surroundalism”?
Of course not, it sounds absurd.
That’s why I’m frustrated with the word “environmentalist.”
On a spiritual level, it’s self-contradicting.
On a linguistic level, it’s irritating.
On a political level, it means little.
On a moral level, it binds us to nothing.
I recognize the English language is far bigger than I am, and may force my choice.
But what do you think?
Here’s a poll to find out.
Please choose one of the answers to this question:
Sorry, the poll you are seeking no longer exists. If you’re in a voting mood, suggest a poll and you might just see it on the site.