Tightly clutching his mint julep in his left hand the middle-aged businessman quietly slid his right arm around the young graduate's back.
"Benjamin." he beckoned, motioning the youth aside. "Benjamin, I got one word of advice for you."
"Yessir?" said the young man, who was already beginning to resent the stench of alcohol on the older man's breath. He looked quietly at the other's bulging stomach. His coach had warned him about liquor.
"Are you listening. Benjamin?" the man asked. "I've got only one word of advice for you." The youth nodded expectantly.
"Ecology," declared the businessman. "It's the up-and-coming field. Every firm's gonna want an ecologist soon. There's money in those hills and rivers."
ECOLOGY, according to every magazine or newspaper that you read, is the newest concern among student activists. The War is out, they tell you, and the environment is in.
Shortly after the tense November Mobilization, in which 500,000 persons gathered to demonstrate to a fleet of D.C. Transit buses surrounding the While House their opposition to the Vietnam War, newspapers and newsmagazines began to tell students that the newest issue to occupy their attention was ecology.
Ecology, declared the New York Times, "will replace Vietnam as the major issue with students." Through out the Establishment media, articles emphasized the waning interest in Vietnam and the increase in activist concern for the deteriorating environment. Stories on the campus potential of the ecology issue appeared everywhere.
This awakened media interest in the anti-pollution campaign was quickly followed by the grandiloquence of Richard Nixon, who made the "quality of life" the major highlight of his January State of the Union Message.
Nixon, ever mindful of the co-optive potential of ecology, sought not only to bring activists back into the normal political system but also to defuse the issue's power as an election issue for the Democrats, offered a glittering package of concern to the nation.
"A major goal for the next ten years for this country must be to restore the cleanliness of the air, the water and that, of course, means moving also on the broader problems of population congestion, transport and the like," the President declared.
"Unless we move on it now, believe me, we will not have an opportunity to do it later, because then the people have millions more automobiles and, of course, the waters and so forth developing the way they do without plants for purification, once the damage is done, it is much harder to turn it around. It is going to be hard as it is," he added logically.
Implied in the Nixon Administration's desperate attempts to grab the spotlight of environmental concern is a driving hope that America's young sheep, led astray by evil anti-war radicals and black militants, might return to the fold of constructive Mickey Mouse politics.
Channeling the Issue
Politicians realize that the ecology issue holds the possibility of real radicalizing potential. So they seek to channel it to their own gain.
Carl Klein, the assistant secretary of the Interior in charge of water-pollution programs, has been racing around the country staging flashy Administration-sponsored teach-ins on ecology, hoping thereby to defuse the radical (and Democratic) potential in America's decaying environment. He has created student groups like SCOPE (Student Council On Pollution and Environment) to co-opt young people into Administration programs.