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CVEPA Views: To be, or not to be, a hamlet

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Opinion by Suzy Meredith-Orr
Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association

An article from a local media organization evoked a surprisingly strong reaction. As I read, I could feel myself scowl. I shook my head and sighed deeply.  My husband asked if I was reading another story about some environmental damage done to our wondrous Crystal Valley. It was an easy guess since he’s seen that reaction so often. But this time I was simply responding to a choice the author had made to use one particular, one might say, “tiny,” word. 

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The offending adjective was “hamlet,” and, despite the wide availability of thesauruses online and in our local libraries, the word has made an astonishing, seemingly multitudinous appearance in articles written about Redstone in our local papers during the last 20 years. It is used so often one might be forgiven for thinking “Hamlet” is the town’s first name, Redstone its middle name and Colorado the surname.

“Hamlet” has often been the label of choice for Marble, as well, Redstone’s neighbor to the south, and despite what the unimaginative wordsmithing would have you believe, the two communities are actually distinguishable from each other.

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Taken by itself, once or twice a decade, the word might not be so grating. Some readers might even consider it a positive descriptor. But, add the frequency of its use by area writers who seem to love it or just can’t find anything else they consider suitable to some other questionable choices, and another cliché comes to mind.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re lucky here in the Roaring Fork Watershed. We live in a spectacular place that few can take for granted, but our home is subject to a lot of environmental threats — some dramatic, some subtle. We’re fortunate because we are able to rely on an abundance of media outlets and nonprofit organizations who are dedicated to making us aware of those threats and what we can do about them. We have few excuses to be uninformed, and especially, unengaged.

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But, once in a while, one of the players in our public information system makes a misstep — that puny misstep that is so often and amusingly repeated. In the article that caused my dismay, the writer also added insult to injury by choosing to identify attendees at a meeting about methane emissions by their attire rather than by their names. Those who warranted this special attention were those who spoke up at the meeting: 

“A lady in a puffy pink jacket objected to his assessment.”

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“‘We need more studies,’ said a man in a blue fleece.”

Who knew that descriptions of sartorial choices could contribute to readers’ understanding of the complexities of testing for methane, or the controversial options that exist for resolving a problem that might release the equivalent of half of Pitkin County’s annual output of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere? It’s a different perspective, that what one wears, and its color, provides insight into one’s opinions. Or that clothing impacts how opinions are perceived or interpreted by some journalists, and possibly by their readers. 

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I haven’t attended every meeting held by the Coal Basin Methane Group, but when I have, I have seen folks from Redstone, from Marble, from Crystal Park, from Swiss Village, from Satank, from Carbondale and from the many scattered neighborhoods in this valley. The opinions expressed at the meetings, held to hear how residents feel about plans to measure methane, are not unified. There is not but one perspective. There is not just one type of personality. The attendees are not of only one profession, political party, income, family size or religion. There is, in other words, nothing on which to base a stereotype. 

It seems odd to pigeonhole folks in any case, but especially to focus on neighbors who are shouldering a lot of environmental responsibilities right now. People who show up to express opinions and learn more about an important issue impacting a place they love deserve respect. In addition to the methane in Coal Basin, Crystal Valleyans deal with mudslides, both drought and potential flooding, continual development, impacts from an increase in visitors, a forthcoming bike trail, disruptive OHV (off-highway-vehicle) traffic, unpermitted work in the Crystal River, a proliferation of bandit trails, impacts on wildlife and ever-present fire danger. It’s a lot to show up for.

The real story isn’t what one wears or the size of one’s community, but how one engages with the changes that are happening around us now — what the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls a “critical moment in history.”

“Human activities have already transformed the planet at a pace and scale unmatched in recorded history, the IPCC said, causing irreversible damage to communities and ecosystems,” the Washington Post reported in March. “Yet global emissions continue to rise, and current carbon-cutting efforts are wildly insufficient to ward off climate catastrophe.”

An issue as significant as protecting our environment is raised when the media chooses to use a trivializing term or stereotyping language about a group of people. That diminution minimizes their opinions. It telegraphs to its audience unfamiliar with those who live here, that they don’t really need to care about the perspectives of those who reside in a hamlet, because those opinions are as small as their community. Especially when you look at what they wear. 

Let’s simply try to work together to make a difference. And have some fun while we’re at it.

To learn more about the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, visit 

Tags: #Coal Basin methane #Crystal Valley #Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association #CVEPA #media
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