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Lynne Plambeck: Stand up for those who dare to lead

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: December 23, 2009 9:32 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.
One choice that must be made by anyone in public life is whether to lead or follow. It is a legitimate question, since in a democracy an elected public official, of course, wants to stand for the ideas and goals of the people he or she represents.

An environmental leader will speak to the issues and solutions held as important by that group. These positions are generally formulated as a result of listening and discussion.

Leadership is another matter. It is based on listening and discussion and on a broad understanding of the problems and concerns of the people, but then it goes a step further.

The leader will formulate and pursue a new direction in the hopes of solving an intransigent public issue. The leader is often the first to publicly promote this new direction, though it may well be an old idea.

Or he may be the spearhead of an entirely new direction, the little tug boat at the front of the huge ship of state that is trying to turn that ship just a bit to guide it safely into port.

Whichever course he takes, he will undoubtedly be ridiculed and harangued for promoting change. The economic interests that will be affected by the new change as they fight to retain their power and money will savagely attack him.

Those who profit peripherally from the old practices will add their opposition, usually in the form of negative media coverage and disparaging personal attacks. It will be difficult to get the new idea out to the public.

Leaders are not always successful at surmounting this barrage of opposition to change. Unlike the movies, the good guys don't always win.

It may take decades, even centuries, with the work of one leader built upon by another, until finally the change becomes an accepted part of our society.

Look at how many years and the terrible Civil War it took to eradicate slavery, a practice that everyone today would admit was wrong.

Or how about smoking? After decades of knowing that this practice causes lung cancer, we finally no longer advertise cigarettes to children and forbid it in many public places.

Smoking generally is seen by society as less acceptable than it was 20 years ago. But the political fight put up by the entrenched tobacco industry ruined lives and political careers in the battle against this change.

So it is no wonder that leaders are hard to come by. It takes courage, honesty, dedication and perseverance to stand in the leadership position, qualities often missing in our local and national public officials.

As I look around at the many environmental changes that must occur for us to continue to pursue health and happiness in the New Year, I wonder where the leaders are.

Where are the public officials - whether government officials, electeds or leaders of organizations - who will have the courage to stand up for change?

Who will stand up to the oil and coal industries? Who will support strong mileage standards in the face of opposition from the auto and oil industry so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and breathe clean air?

Who will stand up to the chemical manufacturing giants and agribusiness to demand reduction or elimination of pesticides that harm our children's health and pollute our water?

Who will stand up to the economic forces in our local community to protect our many local natural treasures, our oaks, our wild creatures and the Santa Clara River?

You and I can help find those leaders, but it will take a little work and community spirit.

It will take sifting through news reports, maybe even reading between the lines, to find out who is really taking action for change.

Who is supporting alternative fuels research even though the oil industry doesn't like it?

Who demanded the use of zero-emission vehicles at our state Air Resources Board, even though the auto industry has led a campaign against that individual?

Which senators and representatives had the fortitude to stand up for strong mileage standards? Remember, they won't be receiving huge financial contributions from industry to get their message out, and the media often will not be very helpful. You will have to look for them.

And if you were lucky enough to find a few leaders in your community, did you take the next step? Did you show up at a public hearing to support them?

Did you write a letter to your local paper in opposition to that nasty industry piece? Did you write them a thank-you letter stating your appreciation for their willingness to stand up?

Did you make a donation to their political campaign or their organization, however small, so that they didn't have to depend on special-interest money, or no money at all, to get their message out?

As we stand on the cusp of a new year, will our public officials have the courage to lead us in the changes we must make to ensure a healthy future for our children?

Will we have the courage and understanding to help them?

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, now celebrating its 22nd year of volunteerism in the Santa Clarita Valley. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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