Ideology On the River

‘Confluence’ Dives Into the State of Environmentalism

Posted May 16, 2005 at 5:37pm

If you think environmentalism is exclusive or elitist, author Nathaniel Tripp urges you to think again.

“We’ve completely lost sight of what environmentalism really is,” Tripp said as he discussed his latest book, “Confluence,” which hit shelves last week. “Environmentalism is inclusive. It includes things like health care and education. … We’re all part of the environment.”

Tripp drew from many first-hand experiences in this book, which he said he wrote because he felt a “sense of betrayal” of the environmental movement that “seemed so promising in the early 70s.” In fact, he hopes the book makes readers angry because “we’re in terrible trouble right now” and it may be too late to change our ways to better the environment, he said.

But it might not be too late, as efforts for change could be led by young college students who are “the ones that are going to have to kick some ass,” Tripp said, adding that the younger generation is who he wants reading his book. He also wants “Confluence” to raise people’s concerns because environmental issues are “so often dismissed as not being a problem.”

The 161-page book features a foreword written by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Dean, during his tenure as governor of Vermont, took a handful of excursions down the Connecticut River with Tripp. His foreword tells of his relationship with Tripp and recounts their experiences — the fishing,

swimming, exploring and telling of ghost stories. Dean wrote that his stories “usually ended with a loud yell, which despite its predictability always had the desired effect.”

Dean, described in the book by Tripp as resembling a “determined salmon,” also wrote that these canoeing outings allowed him to get to know Tripp. Dean said Tripp is “‘deep;’ there is a lot going on under a quiet exterior.” Despite that quiet exterior, however, Dean wrote that Tripp will “fight hardest against those who deny that there is any connection between the incredible rivers and valleys, one of which we spent five years together on, and the healthy future of the world.”

But this “healthy future” is not something Tripp sees in the cards.

“I find the future to be pretty perilous, if not dark,” Tripp said. “I think the people who are in power in Washington are extremely destructive.”

Perhaps this destructiveness stems from the fact that Tripp said everybody is out of touch. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” might apply to those living in the suburbs or in large cities, such as Washington, in terms of how much care is felt about the environment. Tripp mentions people in his book who live and breathe the fresh air, flowing rivers and open land, but that lifestyle is a far cry from bustling city life. And while the cities and suburbs are “exciting” and full of people, Tripp said they’ve caused people to become detached from the “spiritual side of the environment.”

“For the most part in today’s largely rootless and suburban society it seems to require a degree of ignorance, if not insanity, for rural people to work so hard for so little material gain,” Tripp wrote.

Back in 1969, the vision of the Earth from the moon “was a real message of hope” for Tripp. Then, in 1970, the United States celebrated its first Earth Day and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. Next came the passing of the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. While it seemed that things were going well environmentally, Tripp said it all has “been so ridiculed and marginalized since.”

One of the most telling examples of this, Tripp said, is when President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and removed the solar panels from the roof of the White House that were put in during President Jimmy Carter’s term.

Reagan’s “administration wanted to put the memory of the energy crisis behind as quickly as possible,” Tripp wrote. “Solar panels are for losers, just like small, energy-efficient automobiles. Private foundations and ‘think tanks’ began to multiply, divide, and reorganize around the Beltway like plankton in the warm sunshine, reshaping public images and privately unraveling government.”

Tripp admitted that Reagan is a favorite subject of his, but he spends more time throughout the book discussing environmental issues such as the restoration of the Atlantic salmon, mercury in the atmosphere, pollution in the oceans and global warming. And while he drew a large amount of information from scientific research papers, the book does not read like a textbook thanks to Tripp’s style of writing that intertwines his personal experiences with scientific, historical and environmental facts.

For example, in talking about the Atlantic salmon, Tripp mentions his dream years and years ago about perhaps one day having salmon in his backyard. But since the late 1970s, when the salmon restoration began on the Connecticut River, it has not been as successful as some had hoped. In 1981, the Connecticut saw its best numbers for returning sea-run salmon — 529 returning salmon were counted, while the stocking levels had been about a quarter million fish in the years before.

Tripp then segued into talk of a stocking project he participated in at the Nulhegan watershed. He recounts how he worked with students to stock salmon in the water, and how “the river has gotten healthier, but all the while rural America has been dying.” The book then flows to another topic, then another, all coming back to Tripp wanting people to understand that environmentalism “does not see humankind as a separate entity, apart from the rules of nature. It recognizes our own circulatory system with that of the river,” he wrote.

“Confluence” took Tripp about a year and a half to write. He said he originally wanted it to be released while Dean was still a presidential candidate, but he decided to spend more time on the finished product. And, while he said he could have made the book longer, it “seemed like a short book was best here, something that people could pick up and jump into.”

Tripp wrote about how part of the nature of rivers is to unite and divide, “forming both a boundary and an avenue of attack.” However, within the chapters of his book, he covers many topics that show the country is, environmentally speaking, cruising down the avenue rather than forming a boundary.

“Politicians love to divide,” Tripp said. “They’re afraid of people getting united unless they’re united behind them. It leads to a terribly fractured society, which is what we have. We need to make some drastic, drastic changes in our lifestyle and our philosophy.”