SEATTLE – I might have to stop recycling, maybe even buy a really big SUV.

Who wants to be on the same side of an issue as the eco-terrorists who destroyed a group of houses near Maltby, Wash., this month? If that’s how you save the environment, count me out.

Of course, it would be overreacting to reject an idea because of a few fanatics. Overreacting is what they do. People overreacting cause a lot of grief in the world.

In this case the damage was mostly financial.

The arsonists burned down three houses and damaged a fourth in a development of luxury homes in rural Snohomish County, Wash.

A banner at the site declared the homes were not built green. It was signed ELF, the initials of the Earth Liberation Front.

Investigators aren’t certain it was ELF, but that group has been linked to several attacks over the past decade or so.

This action coincided with jury deliberations in the trial of Briana Waters, who is accused of serving as a lookout during a 2001 arson at the University of Washington.

I can’t say that ELF has accomplished much for the Earth, but its members have probably hurt people who are taking more sane and productive paths to safeguarding the environment.

The development where this latest arson took place, situated atop the area’s water supply, has been challenged by other groups, using negotiation and the law.

They reached some compromises, but compromise can be a dirty word for people whose belief in a cause approaches religious fervor.

Green is hot right now and the builders had incorporated some environment-friendly touches in their designs. And the development’s layout, in which homes are clustered together, allows more land to be left untouched.

That’s not enough to have me riding to the defense of the rich and wasteful (Who needs 4,000 square feet unless they were going to adopt a bunch of kids?), but it does suggest we are creeping toward better development.

Slow movement is frustrating, and in this case a good argument could be made that dropping a bunch of mansions in an ecologically sensitive spot doesn’t make sense no matter how much cork flooring they have.

The thing is, we are way past any kind of purity when it comes to our relationship with the ecosystems we inhabit.

Think of all the resources those fires wasted.

Every aspect of our attempts to reduce our impact is full of complexity and compromise.

I embraced compact fluorescent light bulbs because they save energy. Turns out disposing of them poses a hazard because they contain mercury.

How about the push to use more biofuels to get away from burning oil? Most of that fuel is made from corn. Growing corn for ethanol means using lots of fertilizers made from petroleum and pesticides. It adds nitrogen to the air. It also raises the price of food as corn is diverted to energy.

Unless we go back to a hunter-gatherer existence, we’re going to face constant choices in which there is no room for a terrorist’s absolutism.


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