Environmentalist in Oklahoma: Against the Grain
By mrssharp on April 22, 2013
I was born and raised in rural Oklahoma, in a town of around 17,000 people. Oklahoma is known for things like rodeos, country music, the Dust Bowl, the oil and natural gas, and for being one of the reddest states, politically, in the U.S. Oklahoma is not known as being a very progressive or eco-friendly state. My Senator, Sen. Inhofe is even one of the biggest climate deniers in U.S. politics. He claimed that climate change is the, "the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state." And currently some in the state are trying to force schools to teach climate denial.
Image: sean_hickin via Flickr
I am telling you all of this because I am an environmentalist. In some parts of the country being an environmentalist is no big deal, but here it can be a very big deal. Some around here call environmentalism a religion and say I’m worshiping the planet and some go as far to say I’m evil. All because I believe in climate change and push for changes that will make the planet a cleaner place to live.
Back in the summer of 2011, the local recycling coalition I’m a member of asked the city council to approve curbside recycling for the city. This is something we had been fighting for, for a very long time. We were lucky and had recycling drop-offs, something not all towns our sizes have in Oklahoma, but we knew we could do better. One fear brought up by a city council member was that we would make recycling mandatory, like that would be the worst thing we could do. However we were able to convince the city council that curbside recycling was good for the town and they approved it. This was a huge victory but sadly our recycling rates are still quite low, they have improved but on trash day I see less than a 1/3rd of the homes on our streets with recycling bins out for pick up. And the curbside service is free.
It’s not always easy to face the ridicule and even hate, that you can face as an environmentalist in Oklahoma. I have friends and family that have turned their backs on me because they seem to see me as some kind of threat. I get called names like, idiot, stupid, evil, anti-American, and once someone even said I was mentally ill.
Locally many are not thrilled with me because of the stand I have taken against the local cement plant. The plant is a high priority violator of the Clean Air Act and is likely causing many of the health issues that are common around here. However, the cement plant is one of the town’s largest employers and has some great marketing campaigns that have people believing they are a great business that cares about our community. They even sponsored a green expo in my town for a few years and claim that they are recycling tires when really they are burning them for fuel, something that is terribly toxic.
It can be very exhausting and many ask why I don’t just move to somewhere like California where there are more people like me. There are many reasons to stay in Oklahoma, a big one is I’m need here. If all of the environmentalist leave the state it will never change, if we stay we have the chance to spread awareness in an area where it is really lacking. Oklahoma is also a beautiful state with so much to offer. Oklahoma does also have one thing going for it environmentally, it’s now ranked 6th for wind energy capacity and has so much more wind energy potential. Oklahoma is still a land full of farmers and ranchers, many