Why Conservation isn’t a dirty word

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va., February 11, 2014–The other day at the store, I had a polite conversation with a stranger. When I mentioned that I was studying conservation, his face went into a slight sneer. That look is a familiar one–one sometimes associated with extremists and political agendas.

Conservation and sustainability have become a politicized and polarizing issue. However, the point of conservation is universal and applicable to everyone. The importance of conservation can be illustrated through examination of its implications, absent a political lens.

I call for a “re-branding” of this word for the following three reasons:

1) Conservation makes fiscal sense.  While some people make a political statement against climate change by driving a big car, or by leaving their windows open with the air conditioner running, these acts negatively affect one’s personal finances.

Effecting conservation does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with a generalized political stance. My grandfather is an example of a person who does not identify himself outwardly as part of the “green” movement; however, he is a firm believer in the economical outcome of conservation. He spent his working years encouraging homeowners to invest in insulation so houses could stay warmer in winter and cooler in the summer, lowering heating and cooling bills throughout the year. This is an act of conservation, through conserving energy for a financial gain and comfort.

In winter, many keep the house a few degrees cooler and wear a sweater. While this may be partly due to attempts at mindful behavior, it is also usually motivated by a desire to save money. Additionally, taking public transportation is less expensive than driving or taking a taxi, and is also good for the environment. Several businesses and individuals make and save money by recycling anything from copper pipes to paper. These small acts, while financially motivated, are truly acts of conservation.

2) Conservation is part of the American spirit and a large component of the nation’s backbone. World War II was a period of time when conservation and use of sustainable resources was considered a great patriotic act. Victory gardens were encouraged and individuals would “can all they can” in support of US troops. Further, there was significant national support to stop food waste. Bright colored posters decreed, “Waste helps the enemy, conserve material,” and carpooling was a civic responsibility.

As early as 1908, Roosevelt pronounced “Conservation as a National Duty.” Between this, the Great Depression and World War II, the past 100 years of our country were built on the principles of conservation: reducing waste, using less, and finding ways to be smart with our resources.

3) Conserving means being smart about how you use resources, so they can be utilized in the future. Teddy Roosevelt, a progressive and republican president, is arguably one of the most famous environmentalists (and hunters) in American history, as he helped lead the conservation movement. Under Roosevelt, the National Wildlife Refuge system and the Forest Service were created. During his presidency, he helped to put millions of acres of land under the protection of the federal government.

As opposed to other environmentalists at the time, such as John Muir, Roosevelt was mindful of maintaining natural resources so they could be used in the future. For example, rather than chop down all the trees in a wood lot, they can be cut on rotation, and only the largest trees so that the forest landscape does not change as drastically. This can provide comparable habitat and allow the forests to regenerate with similar species.

Regulations and policies that protect species and habitats can help ensure that these resources can be used for a variety of reasons (commercial, aesthetic, inherent, etc.) in the future. In addition, isn’t it fiscally prudent to conserve the remaining resources that align with our current needs, such as cars, gas, and heating for homes, so that more is left to our grandchildren? We don’t currently have viable alternative energy sources, so until we do, we should conserve what we have.

As we move into the future, true conservationists can only hope that this “re-branding” of the word conservation occurs. Conservation is a part of this nation’s great history, and it has shaped generations. By participating in responsible practices, the government and individuals can save a tremendous amount of money.

Finally, utilizing resources wisely, and taking advantage of renewable opportunities, will ensure that we will have access to these resources in the future. Conservation is not a dirty word, and it should not be associated with extremists and political parties. These mindful practices are ones that transcend liberal or conservative values. These practices are American.


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