Mike and Beth talk smack and shop

March 4, 2012

When is it acceptable for enviros to take money from big business?

It’s been awhile since horticultural writer extraordinaire Beth Botts has been on the show. So today, she and I will sit around and discuss a few horticultural issues, while answering gardening questions. In addtion to the work on her blog Growing in Chicago and her various freelancing duties, Beth has been working behinds the scenes as editor of the show guide for the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, which opens at Navy Pier on Saturday, March 10. And her new website is The Garden Beat.

Meanwhile, she and I have been batting around some horticultural issues which may or may not turn up during our discussion today. (Of course, if you can’t listen to the show live, you can always download a podcast.)

One of those subjects is something I briefly talked about a few weeks ago when the National Wildlife Federation decided to partner with the ScottsMiracle-Gro Company to “advance NWF’s nationwide Be Out There initiative to connect children with nature.” The story never made it into the so-called main stream media, yet the social media exploded with outrage. NWF’s Facebook page (which has long-since calmed down) featured comment after comment that excoriated the organization for getting into bed with a company that is known for selling Roundup and weed n’ feed products that disperse not so nature-friendly chemicals into the environment.

Within a week, the partnership was history. But that ill-fated marriage raises legitimate questions about what money can and cannot buy. Many environmental groups are not-for-profit organizations that continually struggle to find funding to stay afloat and keep their mission in front of the public. Who is to be the arbiter of which companies they are “allowed” to accept money from? Ultimately, it boils down to what the public sentiment will bear. If nobody raises a stink…no harm, no foul.

But what can happen–as is more and more the case with the social media–is that a few people hunched over their computers can get a bee in their collective bonnets and decide to put on their Moral and Ethical Police uniforms. As I have seen (and have even found myself in the middle of thanks to some comments made by one of my guests), it doesn’t take long for an individual or organization to suddenly be in damage control mode–deserved or not.

With that in mind, what are we to say about these relationships?

Okay, kids. Get out your blue books and let’s begin.

On many completely different and unrelated topics, here are some other stories that we might get to:

The battle to preserve Chicago’s landfill moratorium

If you’re an environmentalist, you quickly learn that a victory like the one over the pollution-spewing Fisk and Crawford plants is always short lived. Just as soon as you protect one segment of the population or piece of earth from despoilers, another oil company or strip mall developer pops up in another game of whack-an-eco-mole.

Still, I’m stunned by two things concerning Chicago’s South Side (where most of our environmental degradation seems to be concentrated.) The first thing that knocks me for a loop is that 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale is agitating to lift a moratorium on landfill dumping within the city limits of Chicago, which has been in effect since 2005 and which was supposed to last until 2025!

Here’s the other thing that stuns me. I have known about this for about two weeks and I have yet to have seen anything about it in any newspaper or on any other media outlet in Chicago!

Sorry about the italics and the bold typeface and the exclamation points but, geez Louise, I am absolutely gobsmacked! Oops, there I go again.

That’s why I’m honored to have Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director of People for Community Recovery, on the show.

Cheryl learned about environmental issues in her Altgeld Gardens neighborhood from her mother, Hazel M. Johnson, sometimes called “the mother of environmental justice.”. The elder Mrs. Johnson, who passed away in 2011, was recipient of numerous environmental awards and had worked alongside President Barack Obama during his community organizing days in Chicago’s poorer communities.

Cheryl continues the tradition by working on soil, air, and water quality issues in and near the Altgeld Public Housing Project. She is one of the founding members of the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, working with other groups on the severe pollution problems in the region.

What can you do to stop this outrageous violation of a hard-earned environmental victory?