It is no surprise to Paul Mero that he is being looked at as the Ebenezer Scrooge of environmentalists.

He knows it isn't everybody who stands up and questions global warming, encourages the growth of energy industries, warns that too much "going green" is only going to hurt the poor and that oh, by the way, Al Gore may not be infallible — and uses the 37th anniversary of Earth Day to say so.

"Of course I'm getting a lot of crap," shrugs Mero. "That's to be expected."

Mero is president of the Sutherland Institute, the Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank. His remarks represent the feelings of the institute and other like-minded conservatives who believe the environmentalist movement has moved far afield from the compost pile from whence it sprang; that repeated cries that "the sky is falling" and "the Earth is dying" have become virtually sacrosanct, not to be argued with or contradicted.

And to people like Mero, breathing that air just isn't healthy.

"Our brand here (at the Sutherland) is to dialogue," he says. "But on environmental issues, especially global warming, no one wants to talk about it. There's just not a lot of dialogue. We feel like we're the kid saying the emperor has no clothes. And no one is looking. Everyone is assuming that the science is accurate and the sacrifices are worth it."

Or almost everybody.

"We know that there are respected scientists who are saying that man-made global warming isn't big enough of a deal to impose Draconian policies that we all know are going to hurt poor people the most," Mero says, using the hot-button example of global warming.

The problem is they're having a hard time being heard over the noise from the recycling bin.

In an effort to get the debate flowing, the Sutherland is commemorating Earth Week with daily presentations of points of view that oppose conventional mainstream environmental thinking. Yesterday, experts talked about the importance of using natural resources for energy and the economy. Today, the topic is the advantages of nuclear power. Thursday, the discussion will be global warming and Friday will feature the screening of the "anti-environmentalist" movie, "Mine Your Own Business" at The Gateway. (For more information see

And while it might seem like crashing the party to do all this during Earth Week, Mero would suggest that his band of contrarians are the ones with the real best interests of the Earth at heart.

"We have the advantage of being a true independent voice, which is why we do get a lot of crap, because we often tend to be the first one to plow the ground," he says.

"But we're not the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving. It's important that somebody stands up and says, look, people, it's not just about Al Gore. There's science involved. There's a legitimate debate. Our message isn't anti. We believe in conservation, but in the name of human happiness, and there's a difference between conserving and preserving. And we are not willing to sacrifice now for a future based on questionable science."

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.