Rethinking Radical Environmentalism

Rethinking Radical Environmentalism

If you are trying to communicate anything, it always helps if the two parties use the same language. As obvious as that might sound, it is not always a given, especially when dealing with environmental issues. If this were a scholarly article, I would call it “Semantics of Environmental Language”. I have read a lot of work on ecology and environment lately, numbering into the hundreds of articles on the subject, and several things jump out at me. One is that we are not all talking about the same issues in the same language, and that some definition is in order. I have stockpiled every article that Google has discovered on the subject for several weeks, and it seems that we are not all on the same page, not even in the same book, and, perhaps, not even on the same planet!


Let’s look at this briefly from a linguistic point of view. In linguistics, a radical is a root, or the root of the word. What I am advocating here is some true Radical thought, by getting back to the root of the issue. For example:

This is the EPA definition of IPM:

“In technical terms, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the coordinated use of pest and environmental information with available pest control methods to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment”.

I just don’t think that the EPA definition goes far enough, and it definitely starts in the wrong place. The standard definitions just don’t work. If we start out using them to define where we are, we are, at best, putting the proverbial band aid on a bullet hole. I propose a different model. One that not only treats the symptoms, and cures the disease, but one based on prevention. Most definitions of IPM, start with the symptoms, and how to deal with them by using the various methods at hand. The real issue is prevention. Let’s look at it like this: The pest problem, say, West Nile Virus carrying mosquitoes, are the evidence or SYMPTOM. We have them in our lawn, or school yard or park because we have a breeding area nearby, that is the DISEASE in our environmental body, and the cure, is to get rid of the standing water that allows them to breed. The solution to the problem is to stop doing the things that cause the stagnant water build up, or at least don’t build the home, or school or park next door to it.

The fact is that we create the vast majority of our problems. We do so by such innocuous means as “burial at sea” for the deceased family goldfish (the likely source for our current hydrilla problem). We have an astounding array of “non native” environmental problems like kudzu, hydrilla, imported fire ants, and imported diseases now carried by our native pests, and most of it could have been prevented with a little forethought.

What we need is prevention, and it needs to spread way beyond the pest control arena into other seemingly unrelated industries, such as the architects and engineers designing our structures, keeping in mind that where they are built, and what we do to build them, has long term consequences for the broader environment. We need to change our way of thinking about ecology and environment, so that we can change the way we interact with it.

If we start with the widely held assumption that the symptoms are the disease, we will never get to the cure! We are only masking the symptoms, like giving someone with a serious infection an aspirin, and, when the fever subsides, assuming that that solves the problem. They need antibiotics, and those sparingly, and then a change in whatever situation caused the infection, to keep it from recurring. Let’s start thinking in terms of causes and prevention. The preventative method is to change the way we think. Our road map may be fine, but we will never arrive at our destination by departing from one place, and thinking it was another!

James Burns is a licensed pest control professional, has been a Certified Professional Turfgrass Manager for more than 16 years, has a lifetime of experience in horticulture and agriculture, and is the owner of Rational Environmental Solutions, an IPM based pest control company in East Texas. He also has many helpful gardening tips at .