We sometimes mistake the term “environmentalism” with parochial efforts to defend the natural character of a singular river, clean up a long neglected lake or prevent the development of a cherished landscape. True environmental stewardship looks beyond just the aesthetic, ecological and sentimental values of one place or region, and respects that all Americans, and indeed all of humanity, have a right to clean air and water, safe and sustainable food, and reliable and secure shelter.
If we are truly to serve society through our efforts to preserve, protect and promote our environment, our advocacy must go beyond the impact one person might have on one ecosystem, or even one state or nation. Modern environmentalism must adhere to the principles of environmental justice – that all people, regardless of origin, economic status or place of residence, are entitled to fair and equal treatment. It must assure that all citizens of the planet are afforded meaningful involvement in the decision-making that sets the course of their lives and communities.
Twenty-first century environmentalism must reassert its embrace of those ideals to which Senator Gaylord Nelson summoned us 44 years ago today — a safe, clean and sustainable environment for all people, and protection of those special places that unite us, inspire us and call us to action time and again.