(POINTBLANK) Environmental Controversies: Avoid Group Think & Herd Mentality like the Plague… by Kevin Franck

I’ve pulled away from following almost all of the non-profit environmental groups and organizations because they have become consumed more about politics and power, rather than actually caring about what happens to Nature. Nature is used these days as a crutch to lean on for donations for political fights. I’ve long since let go of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, EcoWatch, California Chaparral Institute, to name a few. Take for example the bogus outrage over the BLM website photo controversy back in April 2017.

Image – BLM

Every single major media outlet & environmental group jumped on the hate bandwagon and exploited the BLM’s photograph for its political & money donations’ worth. It began with a scene from the Home page of the BLM website that showed a young boy and his companion overlooking a scenic landscape. They were apparently on a backpacking trip, looking toward the sunrise and, presumably, a brighter future ahead. What could be more natural than than two friends out there in the outdoors enjoying Nature. BUT THEN ???

Image – BLM

Suddenly, on April 7th 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed the boy campers’ image (or so everyone thought) from its homepage and replaced them with a photograph of a large coal seam from the Peabody North Antelope Rochelle Mine in the state of Wyoming.

The move offended all the “keep it in the ground” groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, along with most Media giants like the Huffington Post & New York Times. Before long there was a massive Twittersphere uproar. Anybody who was anybody climbed on board the hate bandwagon and sided with the outrage without really doing any homework as to the truth about who was technically responsible for the photo rotation makeup of the BLM’s website. Instead it was assumed to be the fault of the country’s newly elected leader—Donald Trump— whom they didn’t approve of and already hated. Just one alert by single outraged activist started a firestorm of controversy.

True became the words of a biblical text from James 3:5:

So, too, the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it makes great brags. See how small a fire it takes to set a great forest ablaze!”

The California Chaparral Institute also jumped on the outraged ‘power to the people’ bandwagon, generating hundreds upon hundreds of comments from its loyal followers,  all of them offering their own angry opinions. I stayed out of the melee until one of the commenters, a BLM staffer, tried to calm things down and explain the website’s new photo rotation technology. It had nothing to do with Trump.

Nobody wanted to listen. Instead the BLM employee was viciously attacked. Suddenly the comments degenerated into a coal vs clean energy debate, not related to the photo discussion at all.  I tried to defend the BLM guy, who was merely trying to explain the agency’s new website IT technology, originally mandated by President Obama.

Later, BLM spokesman Jeff Kraus tried to explain the change to NPR; in the interview Kraus noted that the change was meant to illustrate the BLM agency’s multiple-use mission of balancing recreation with natural resource extraction. The rotation of photos is weekly. The photo changes every Friday, so this coal seam replaced the hiker photo and the following Friday a different photo would appear, and so on.  

The BLM member (I know his name, but will not reveal it) feared that  blowback from the misplaced, vindictive protests from the California Chaparral Institute Facebook page might cost him his job. The guy was kind and respectful, but because he was so viciously attacked, he decided to delete all his posts. I private messaged him and apologized if I made things worse by defending him. I feared I may have even been the reason he deleted his posts. Here is his reply through FB Private Message:

“Nothing I said was out of line with policy or was confidential. It was more a matter of keeping a lower profile. My job is to speak publicly about the BLM and its mission. But that doesn’t mean that my personal profile should be associated with individuals who advocate for any particular position. This is doubly true if I identify myself as a BLM employee. The job of the BLM is to be the neutral arbiter in the many uses of public lands. Often there is some public assumption of balance. This isn’t always the case. Nothing is so cut and dry in “multiple use and sustained yield”. Often lands will see one use to near exclusivity. I’m not sure that the audience on that post was ready to really know that. They’re also not ready to know that the last administration under Obama presided over the more approvals of Applications for Permit to Drill of any presidency in history. All of this while protecting more acres of the public lands than any other presidency. Our mission, in all of its facets, goes on no matter who is in the Whitehouse. We just talk about different parts of it more at times. Thanks for your concern.”

I’ve never commented again on the California Chaparral Institute’s Facebook page and I’ve severed all communication with them. In the past I admired that organization and wrote posts favourably about their mission.

I don’t regret writing about some of the positive aspects of Chaparral Plant Community and some of the work they have done from an educational standpoint.  Lately, however, they have predominantly morphed into a giant political machine and I want nothing to do with either side’s politics.

I did fact check some of the information the BLM Member related about the previous US Administration’s having mandated the upgrade in IT, specifically the image rotation function on the BLM website. And the inconvenient truth about President Obama, who had been labeled the  “Oil President” by none other than Mother Jones. Sure enough, it’s all true, especially the not-so-environmentally-friendly fracking technology for natural gas which the previous US President thought would be a cleaner direction. Admittedly, it sounded logical. No blame there.

One thing we should remember about the BLM, they take hard flack from both political sides for whatever ideological reasons. It seems many times they are stuck in the middle in a thankless job.

Image – BLM

A week later, lo and behold, there it was: a new image showing some guy flyfishing. And, just as the BLM guy said would happen, the following Friday yet another image appeared. But, deliberately and purposefully ignoring all that, the Chaparral Institute’s owner and admin, Richard Halsey, proclaimed to his loyal members the following Friday (April 14th 2017):

Except it had nothing to do with public outrage, rabid eco-activism or collective ‘power to the people’ voices sending shivers down the spine of the new leader. It was just exactly as the BLM people stated: a rotation of selected images, showing recreation and also natural resource extraction photos. All around the globe environmentalists chanted and pushed the same narrative. ‘The people’ claimed the evil powers had backed down.

Except that’s not exactly what happened. The next Friday (April 21st 2017) another new image below appeared on the BLM website homepage.

Image – BLM

Another inconvenient truth photo. An oil pipeline through pristine clean wilderness. So what ever happened to all those ‘power to the people’ voices?  Fact is, the controversy was short and it basically provided the much-needed outrage to get various non-profit group followers to donate more money so all the non-profit Admins could continue to fight the good fight. Without ever apologizing, these groups chalked it up to ‘greater good’ rationalizations.

Kevin Franck was born and raised in California. He lived much of his life in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. For the past fourteen years, he’s lived in Sweden with his wife, and he prefers to stay neutral on US politics. 

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