In his book, Fight for the Bay, Howard Ernst uses the ongoing discussions and efforts surrounding the health of the Chesapeake Bay to expose a larger trend in the American environmental debate. He discusses the “clash of values” between three major schools of thought that leads to environmental conflict in the United States.
- Ernst argues in favor of Dark Green environmental thought, which argues that humans have an inalienable right to a clean environment—to clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and sustainable natural resources. Just as with the classic American rights of life and liberty, no one should be allowed to infringe upon that right by damaging nature.
- Light Green environmental thought sees preservation of the environment as a human responsibility, rather than a human right. While the Dark Greens call for government action, the Light Greens encourage actors to follow voluntary environmental goals.
- Cornucopian thought stands in opposition to both “shades” of green. The economy is the primary human concern. These thinkers prioritize property rights and the right to use nature for economic gain, whether as a means of disposal or as a source for harvest.
Ernst is concerned that efforts to improve the condition of the Chesapeake, as with the U.S. political system, are oversaturated with Light Green thinking. The hegemony of Light Green thought has lead to failed partnerships, leaving the Chesapeake Bay and all of its major tributaries on the EPA’s “impaired” list.