EnvironmentGuest Posts

Guest Post: In Two Boxes at Once

A guest post by Lizzy Hiatt:

Very few of us fit into neat little boxes. That has to be one of the best parts of being human. For example, I like hipster-ish folk music and Rihanna, and generally I don’t really try to puzzle out what this means about me. On a more serious note, I identify as a skeptic, feminist, and environmentalist. To me, it seems like a clear fit that these communities should see eye to eye and work together. Unfortunately, the reality is not nearly as cozy as my mind would like. If you’ve been hanging around in the skeptic community for very long, there’s a pretty good chance that you know that feminists and skeptics have a rocky relationship (exhibit A: Elevatorgate) despite the brilliant skeptical feminists out there. But that’s a story for another day. What I want to talk about is skepticism and environmentalism. 

The environmental movement as we know it largely grew out of the late 1960’s and was spurred by the use of DDT as a pesticide. While it is great at killing insects, DDT also caused serious thinning of bird eggshells. A book called Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, caused folks to take action, and a movement was born. Today, there are hundreds of environmental groups out there with dozens of pet projects ranging from protection of waterways to coal mining. What most of these activists have in common is an abiding love for nature. That’s where my interest in environmentalism began. I love the outdoors, everything from the smell of wet soil to the sound of the wind through a tall stand of trees. 

Unfortunately, the environmental movement is also full of woo. Lots and lots of woo. Spend some time hanging with environmentalists and you’ll hear about the wonders of alternative medicine compared to the “toxic chemicals” from Big Pharma, the evils of genetic engineering, and nuclear power, and plenty of other things that will make you want to scratch your head. It often seems that environmentalists have bought into the naturalistic fallacy part and parcel.

It’s a tempting mistake to make. On the surface it seems like everything would be better if we could just go back to the days before we had coal plants dumping CO₂ into the atmosphere, but that view is overly simplistic and in the end bound to fail. We rely completely on electricity for our daily lives and most Americans, me included, aren’t willing to give that up. Modern medicine has saved millions of lives, while herbs and acupuncture offer little more than wishful thinking. Rather than allowing ourselves to be bogged down in the mire that is unsubstantiated naturalist claims, environmentalists need to look for science based answers to the serious problems facing the Earth.  

Very few answers are perfect and it is impossible to truly turn back the clock on the devastation that humans have caused. We need to carefully evaluate new and unique solutions based on their own merit rather than on our desire to return to a utopic time that never truly existed. Go out there and get involved! It is very possible to change the world, but it will only happen if we can focus on worthwhile issues and real solutions.     


Lizzy is a feminist, microbiologist, housewife with a penchant for complicated desserts and activism. She is resides in the land of cowboys with a terrifying cat, an eccentric corgi and a blonde.

Featured image credit: Axel-D

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1 Comment

  1. March 20, 2012 at 9:44 pm —

    Love this. I'm involved now in environmental groups that lean towards evidence-based/skeptical behaviors, but woo was my main frustration when trying to 'be green'.

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