The Making of an Environmental Conservative by Gordon Durnil

by Carolyn Chase
f you are interested in helping forward environmental issues from a conservative point-of-view, or are an environmental strategist, you simply must read this book. When I attended Congressman Brian Bilbray's speech to the Industrial Environmental Association last month, I took a copy of this book and trotted right up to the podium with it. His eyes really lit up when he saw it. Right away, his aide mentioned that they had ordered it and were expecting it any day.
The idea that there is such a thing as an environmental conservative can strike some as odd in these days when more and more industry lobbyists seem to be setting the agenda in Washington, D.C. But with impeccable conservative credentials - former State Chair of the Indiana Republican party and Republican National Committee member - Gordon Durnil is able to articulate why conservatives should be, and indeed are, morally bound to take a stand for a healthy environment.
He makes it clear that pro-environment is pro-life and that what is at stake is the health of future generations.
Durnil was reluctant at first to "cross-over" into the world of consensus decision-making and environmental regulations. But as President Bush's appointee to the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission charged with maintaining the quality of the environment in the Great Lakes, he was compelled to review the scientific evidence as well as hear testimony from thousands of individuals.
His conclusions are radical and shocking. Were conservatives to heed his call to action, the environmental movement and - dare I say - the environment itself could be rocked as never before.
Durnil observes:
" ... the consequences to humans and their children cannot even be predicted. However, the increased risks of cancer to the exposed adult, and more worrisome, the effect on the unborn progeny of the exposed, are frightening.
"It is not as if these things are not happening and not being reported. They are. So how can we ignore them, especially when they raise such serious questions about today's societal problems? Here are some ponderables:
What if, indeed. He assesses each group of players in turn: government, industry, environmental groups, scientists, health care professionals, the media, education officials and the public at large. Though behind the "eight-ball" in general, Durnil maintains that the public is and must be the key player in catalyzing and demanding environmental security. He notes that bureaucrats and industry cannot get it done on their own.
"As in Agent Orange, leukemia clusters, other cancer clusters, clusters of babies born without brains, Love Canal, and on and on, it is a common a scenario for the public to suffer an effect, see a potential cause, then tie the two together. Scientists who cannot find definitive proof will, however, deny the linkage. Government and industrial scientists and other bureaucrats will work hard to convince the public that its conclusion is wrong. Quite often, maybe fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years later, the affected public is found to be correct. That doesn't happen because the scientist and bureaucrats are bad people, it's just that they are trained to operate within the framework of scientific certainty, when we live in a world of uncertainty.
"An uncertain world is a world where decisions delayed may be a gamble too great to suffer. When we think in terms of children not doing well in school, in health, and, as they age, in reproductive prowess, we know that absolute scientific proof of harm is not the criterion for precaution. The potential for harm is a much more reasonable standard for decision making, when we are making decisions about the ability of our species, and others to procreate. Too often the lack of absolute scientific proof is deliberately used as an excuse not to change our way of doing things."
He goes on to discuss good science, bad science and other issues currently being given lipservice by elected officials. His conclusions:
"The Time for Toxic Tolerance is Past", "Don't demand 100 percent proof of harm before action. Think about morality and the Golden Rule. I have come to the conclusion that we are unintentionally putting our children and our grandchildren in harm's way. I have concluded that we need a basic change in direction. The future depends on you. Tell your neighbors. Tell your state legislator or your member of Congress that you want and demand environmental change. Tell local industry that you want proper stewardship get involved. Make some noise. Kick up some dust...your words, your actions, do matter ... we should be leading the parade!"
I really couldn't put it better myself. The White House comment line is: (202) 456-1111. The Congressional switchboard is (202) 224-3121.

The Making of an Environmental Conservative by Gordon Durnil, Indiana Press, ($19.95) ISBN 0-253-32873-X, (812) 855-6804;