John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A small gap in the language

Jeff McMahon’s Scorched Earth blog, in a link forwarded by one of my readers, is looking for a single word to identify the opposite of environmentalist.

We can identify people who call themselves environmentalists by a cluster of values and positions on public policy. And we can identify pejorative terms — tree-hugger, for example — used by people who do not share their values and oppose their positions.

But Mr. McMahon is right: We do not have a single, neutral term to describe people with an opposing point of view. He comments: “A colleague of mine in the education/slash/journalism field, Monica Westin, suggested “depletist” or “depletionist,” which might function as an opposite to conservationist, but doesn’t work as well when opposed to environmentalist. The problem with depletist, it seems to me, is that it should have its own opposite that means something like filler-upper.”

If you have any suggestions — keeping in mind that we’re looking for a term as neutral as environmentalist, not a pejorative — I’d be happy to forward them to Mr. McMahon.

26 comments:

  1. It's difficult to think of a neutral term. One could be a non-environmentalist without being an anti-environmentalist. An anti-environmentalist might be opposed to environmentalists but not to conservation of the environment. Both terms are unwieldy and ambiguous.

    "Mentalist" is perhaps too loaded, though structurally it would be a good play on its purported antonym.

    "Squanderist"?

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  2. the first definition on Google will do for my purposes:
    "environmentalist: someone who works to protect the environment from destruction or pollution"

    So is the opposite "someone who doesn't work to protect the environment..." or "someone who works to endanger the environment..."

    If it's the former, does it really need a word of its own? Is there a direct opposite to "activist"? If they're not active in environmentalism then they're simply not an environmentalist; they don't become a new category. Unless "apathetic resource leech" is considered a neutral term.

    If it's the latter definition, how can it really remain neutral? Any word that tries to say that the person wants to endanger the environment seems like it would be inherently prejudiced. Education-rights activists don't have a counterpart (do they?) because "opponents to education rights" would be largely shunned by society; there's just not a logical way that term could work in a positive, neutral way. But if this is the definition sought, then perhaps something like "urbanist" would be suitable, at least for colloquial discourse.

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  3. Michael PakenhamMay 14, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    Envirodiffident?

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  4. Well, we want a word that contrasts with the environment, so how about a word that's derived from the Greek word for "self"?

    Unfortunately, "idiot" already has other connotations.....

    Ephemerist?

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  5. A tough assignment given that environmentalist has taken on an increasingly pejorative connotation in some circles. Still, here is my suggestion:

    homocentristDo you place more emphasis on the needs and demands of the environment or those of the people that inhabit it, however ill-informed those inhabitants might be?

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  6. An interesting question from a lexicographer's point of view, because there are two problems: one is that simply tacking "non-" onto "environmentalist" doesn't yield the term that's being sought here; it just means "someone who is not an environmentalist." Words formed with "non-" treat the base word as normative, whereas it seems that what's wanted here is a term that can stand on its own, that isn't defined only by what it is not, that asserts some kind of stance that is opposite to that of an environmentalist.

    But then we run into the second problem: although we might generally agree now on what it means to be an "environmentalist," there isn't a similiar consensus about what it means not to be one. It could mean one is diffident, but it could mean that one is skeptical of, or actively hostile to, environmentalists.

    It's a bit like asking "What's the opposite of 'Christian'?" The technical answer is "nonchristian," but that person could be an agnostic, atheist, or Buddhist.

    Perhaps "envirodissident"--a dissenter, whatever the grounds might be? Though that, too, treats "environmentalist" as the norm to be dissented from.

    In the Northwest, where I grew up, the answer is "logger," but that's another discussion.

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  7. Michael PakenhamMay 14, 2009 at 10:18 AM

    As to Damon's "Is there a direct opposite to 'activist'?"
    Surely, isn't it "passivist"?

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  8. A former editor of mine wanted to rip gold out of New Zealand's national parks, He argued, sincerely, that he was a natre lover. Wiggins, he said, you are a preservationalist, I am the environmentalist. A generation later both the gold and the forests are where they were. A fine outcome in my view but his point about lamguage was well made,

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  9. i think "consumer" moves in the right direction.

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  10. Latching on to Jim's suggestion, I would say an anti-environmentalist is someone who places economic imperatives over conservation, hence an "econocentrist". Or if we define an anti-environmentalist is someone who thinks individuals should be able to use environmental resources without much or any government intervention, "environmental libertarian" could be an appropriate term.

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  11. We don't hear it much any more, but mining and oil drilling used to be lumped together as "extractive industries," so how about "extractivist"? Nah, I guess it suggests dentistry.

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  12. How about "survivalist." It's about as contradictory as the term "environmentalist," and it also shares a positive connotation.

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  13. Reaching back to my childhood, I think the word may be "wasteroon":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1tjmk1EP9A

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  14. If an "environmentalist" is someone who supposedly puts what is good for the Earth above all other considerations, then I would argue that the main opposition to this type of belief system should be called "humanist."

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  15. If we were using the term Greens, the obvious counterpart would be the Browns. But we're not.

    In most cases when there are two groups with two neutral-to-positive terms, the groups themselves came up with the terminology, for example, pro-life and pro-choice.

    There is a movement called "Wise Use" in the US which is anti-environmentalist. I think this name has the same problem as the self-styled (and short-lived) "Brights", that is, by implication it clearly insults the opposition.

    I note that that hasn't really stopped journos from using "pro-life" when the opposite is obviously meant to be "anti-life" or "pro-death." Pro-choice's opposition really does oppose a particular choice so there I think it's on safer ground.

    Anyway. If the anti-environmentalists can't come up with a better term then they can just go hang. Why should we waste any of our time and energy coming up with nice ways to say mother-Earth-raper?

    The journalistic fetish for making both sides of a story sound equal never ceases to amaze me.

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  16. I think the non-environmentalists will have to create their own positive-sounding term, like the two sides of the abortion rights debate did (who doesn't want choice? who is opposed to life?), or be saddled with something like "earth-despoilers" or, more neutrally, "anti-protectionists".

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  17. a copyediting aside:


    "education/slash/journalism field"

    It feels odd to use slashes to set off the word "slash"--why not just use the slash, and not the word?

    Of course, because it's a quote, and people can't pronounce "/." (or "/"?)

    But I wouldn't use a slash as a quote in a punctuation often anyway, and certainly not in this sort of construction. My vote would be:

    "education-slash-journalism field"

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  18. SJLiPhone: "If an "environmentalist" is someone who supposedly puts what is good for the Earth above all other considerations, then I would argue that the main opposition to this type of belief system should be called "humanist.""

    Environmentalists don't believe the environment is at odds with humans. We are part of it, and if it dies, we die with it. What benefits the environment benefits us.

    If anti-environmentalists think of the environment as the enemy, then that says more about them than the word "humanist" (which has already been taken, anyway). I think the new verbification "othering" works here.

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  19. Oldfeminist: Environmentalists don't believe the environment is at odds with humans.

    You're right, environmentalists don't believe the environment is at odds with humans. Environmentalist believe that humans are at odds with the environment.

    "Humanists" also understand that destroying the environment will hurt humanity's chance of survival in the long-term. The goal of "humanists" is the survival and betterment of humans. All decisions are made in pursuit of achieving these goals.

    Environmentalists on the other-hand, only want what is best for the environment and what is good for humans is not considered – by the true environmentalists, that is.

    Here's a test question: How do feel about drilling for oil in Alaska?

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  20. It seems that the "pro" message among those who are not in the environmental camp is that environmental concerns should be balanced with the needs of growing population, etc. Hence perhaps they're "balancists." As with the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy, one side could be pro-environment and the other side could be pro-balance. Everyone is pro-something, no one is anti-anything, no one has to feel they've been slapped with a negative label.

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  21. Taking off from Mike's comment, the people opposed to limitations that derive from concerns about the environment generally argue in favor of economic growth. So they are pro-growth, or, by analogy with the abortion debate lingo, pro-growthers.

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  22. In scientific environmentalist circles, the missing word is "Cornucopian," describing people who believe the environment can indefinitely replenish itself and support unlimited population growth. (Another word for this theory is "wrong," but that wasn't the question.")

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  23. SJLiPhone said...

    "You're right, environmentalists don't believe the environment is at odds with humans. Environmentalist believe that humans are at odds with the environment."

    Some actions of humans are at odds with the environment.

    Sure, there are some environmentalists who value snail darters more than humans. Most of us simply believe there are ways for humans to live without the wanton destruction of things that don't feed us or make us happy or rich.

    mike: "It seems that the "pro" message among those who are not in the environmental camp is that environmental concerns should be balanced with the needs of growing population, etc. Hence perhaps they're "balancists." As with the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy, one side could be pro-environment and the other side could be pro-balance. Everyone is pro-something, no one is anti-anything, no one has to feel they've been slapped with a negative label."

    Except balance makes it sound like anyone else is a crazy extremist.

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  24. Would any of these work?
    Environegator
    Enviroabsenist
    Envirotagonist
    Enviropponent
    Enviroresister
    Enviroppositionist

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  25. Christopher HawesJune 25, 2012 at 6:20 PM

    Hey, I'm 3 years late by the looks of things here, but what about “Environsuppressionalist” - One who believes in actions and/or commits actions which forcibly inhibit the environment.

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