It’s Time To Retire The “First Environmentalist” Cliche

During a House committee hearing this week, Sierra Club lobbyist Dave Cullen opposed a measure that would prevent local governments from enacting policies designed to reduce climate change by restricting fossil fuels.

Bill sponsor Josie Tomkow, who lives on a family ranch in northern Polk County, responded that living on a ranch makes here “an original environmentalist,” supposedly implying no one should lecture her on the environmental demerits of her proposed legislation.

This is a variant of the sometimes quoted cliché that states “farmers were the first environmentalists.”

I have no idea who first came up with this talking point.

It’s time to set the record straight.

Farms and ranches of any type are created by removing native vegetation and introducing exotic animals and plants as a way to make a living. That’s just the way it is and always has been.

Some farmers and ranchers do an admirable job of responsibly managing what’s left of the natural landscape on their property. Some do not. Farms and ranches do provide ample green space, but sometimes it is by default rather than by design.

In Florida, farmers’ environmental record is not inspiring.

The Florida panther wouldn’t be endangered and the red wolf wouldn’t be missing from Florida’s wild lands if they hadn’t been persecuted by ranchers.

The Kissimmee River and a good part of the Everglades basin would probably not have been ditched as extensively as it was if not for the political pressure of the agriculture lobby.

The state’s water pollution laws would probably be stronger than they are except for pushback by some agriculture interests.

Finally, if you want to look for an original environmentalist, try Alexander von Humboldt, who was credited with being the first scientists to observe than human activity can seriously damage ecosystems.

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.