When Environmentalists Collaborate

The Wages of Compromise

by MICHAEL DONNELLY
March 01, 2012

Spring is in the air in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Crocus and daffodil add a splash of late winter color. Trees are budding. Days grow longer, the sun makes a cameo appearance…and, like swallows to Capistrano, the usual suspects cadre of eco-wonks/lawyers return to Eugene and the University of Oregon for the 30th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference   (E-LAW) March 1 – 4, 2012.

“Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function.” — David Brower, first Executive Director of the Sierra Club. This year PIELC officially celebrates the 100thAnniversary of Brower’s birth.

E-LAW is part employment bazaar for newly-minted attorneys seeking jobs in the ever-expanding (much thanks to E-LAW) field of Environmental Law. It is also part gathering of actual non-paid, in the trenches eco-activists who are the ones who generate the resistance that leads to all those legal jobs. What matters to the job seekers and the already employed panelists who draw a paycheck derived from a cornucopia of foundation-funded groups and what motivates the volunteer or underpaid activists sometimes coincide and sometimes the activists are featured panelists; but, most of the time the disconnect is palpable. Invariably, PIELC becomes living proof of the Upton Sinclair dictum.

“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something  when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” —Upton Sinclair

Many environmental topics – local, national and international are featured among the many panels and plenary sessions.  Excellent panels on Civil Liberties and Activism always are on the agenda, as are ones addressing threatened Species. Many prominent issues are left unaddressed. And, as Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle (now in Appalachia fighting the good fight against the abomination of Mountaintop Removal coal extraction) always notes, “The real work at any of these gatherings is done in the hallways and bars.”

So, here’s a summary of the local and national ones that I see are the hot points issues right now; the ones getting the mountain lion’s share of the funding and attention: