Coalition Report: Where’s The Hope

By Heather B. Navarro
Executive Director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment

I’ve been an environmentalist as long as I can remember. I know the term can turn some people off, but to me, it’s the only way I know to describe how fiercely committed I am to protecting our natural resources and the right for all people to enjoy nature’s gifts. Since I was in middle school, I can remember thinking that if only I could convince our elected officials to care about overflowing landfills, polluted rivers, and disappearing species, like the spotted owl, as much as I did they would do the right thing and protect the environment.

I have since learned that policymaking is not as easy as waving a magic wand to realize your hopes and desires. And even when lawmakers finally step up to the plate and do the right thing, such as passing the Superfund law or preserving large tracts of forests or coastline for future generations, these actions are too often undone by successor politicians. To watch one administration unravel decades of work by opening up public lands to private interests or dismantle entire regulatory frameworks aimed at addressing climate change is devastating, but more importantly it can be discouraging.

Discouragement often leads to disillusionment and despair, a downward spiral that gathers speed as one bad thing topples on another. I know enough people in the environmental movement to know that many of us are on that path, straining to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As an advocate I’m used to tracking legislation, following the amendment process, and challenging lax enforcement in court. However, it’s hard to find hope in those spaces these days. Luckily, there is more to making the legislative sausage than what happens between the Capitol walls. Successful advocacy must be supported by a grassroots base. At the end of the day it’s about people, about voters. Here in St. Louis I see people trying out a new bike share system. I see people from all walks of life holding up the virtues of community gardening and eating organic. I see movements growing up around indoor air quality in subsidized housing. Whether these people know it or not they are taking on the environmentalist mindset.

If you enjoy eating a homegrown tomato, fresh from the soil, you could be an environmentalist. If you opt to take a bike, saving on gas and reducing emissions, you could be an environmentalist. If you stand up for healthy living conditions in public housing you could be an environmentalist. Despite what I see happening on our state and national political stages, I also see a lot of people adopting environmentalist lifestyles. It might not always be easy to see but there is a reason to be encouraged. Environmentalism might not look like what it once did but it’s alive and well and as it grows, decision-makers won’t be able to ignore it.