Environmentalists Debate Tactics. Hard-line activists reject the compromises negotiated by traditional organizations. FLORIDA
MANY environmentalists are growing increasingly impatient with compromise and dealmaking by what one Florida activist calls the ``comfortable old movement.'' During the past two decades, once-radical ideas about the value of wetlands and controlling urban growth have become mainstream environmental concerns. Environmentalists and their organizations, likewise, have moved into the mainstream.Skip to next paragraph
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But developments ranging from the recent oil-tanker spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound to thickening morning traffic in Sunbelt cities are stoking impatience with softline methods.
This is especially apparent in Florida, where the pressure of rapid population growth on a delicate ecosystem now brings a steady onslaught of environmental face-offs.
Critical of too much compromise, Joe Podgor, Dade County chairman of Friends of the Everglades, says: ``The old movement has decided that something is better than nothing too many times.''
Recently, hard-line environmentalists in Gainesville, Fla., were arrested after perching in trees as bulldozers moved toward them to clear for a high-density development.
This kind of radical action, typical of groups like Greenpeace, was more familiar in early environmentalism days in the early 1970s. This year in Gainesville, it worked. The county commission changed its decision on allowing the development.
Over the past few years, this type of hard-line environmentalism has reached a higher profile than ever in Florida.
``A natural evolution,'' says Tallahassee lawyer and environmentalist David Gluckman of the purists who see environmental causes in absolute, black-and-white terms. ``It's almost critical to keep the movement going.''
At the national level, Jeff Webb, international director of Friends of the Earth, says, ``We are getting more impatient.''
He was annoyed to watch the leaders of two major environmental organizations make conciliatory statements toward the Bush administration recently, without - in Mr. Webb's view - getting any deserving action from the White House. ``After the last eight years [of Reagan-led environmental policy], I don't think people are in much of a mood to give more ground.''
In Florida, the tension between compromise and confrontation over environmental issues emanates from a variety of environmental and neighborhood groups uncomfortable with the dealmaking of a few of the largest, most established groups.
With Lake Okeechobee - which feeds the Everglades and much of urban south Florida's water supply - on the brink of ecological death, the vast Everglades themselves unhealthy, the loss of wetlands slowed but continuing, and a number of popular local species on the endangered list, Florida environmentalists increasingly claim no room for compromise.
Those most often accused of compromising too soon, too easily, contend that they must pick their battles to be effective and that they increase their clout and credibility with politicians and regulatory agencies by negotiating reasonably.