CLEARWATER — In a corner of the Ross Norton Recreation Complex, on display boards labeled "Paper" and "Plastic," happy little cartoons taught the joys of home recycling.
Joe Paige sneered. Another sign of the government's tendrils snaking your rights away, he said. Another symbol of the "Green Agenda."
Paige, 53, declared triumphantly that he will recycle however he pleases. "The city of Clearwater," he said, "does not own my aluminum cans."
Walk the world with Paige and you see the Agenda everywhere — in car-killing bicycle initiatives, in economy-choking parks, in people-poisoning light bulbs — in the name of earthly stewardship.
Some of the ideas, he said, are good. But they demand a bigger government, which is bad. This "environmental deception" will blot out the national economy and leave hard-working Americans, like him, in the dust.
(For the record: Paige likes recycling, just not when the government does it. He brings his to his church.)
Paige's perspective seemed a bit out of place Tuesday as he and a dozen protesters descended on an open house for Clearwater Greenprint, a local program for reducing energy use.
Greenprint is the city's response to nudges from Tallahassee that local governments should do more to encourage energy-efficient homes, roads and businesses. A committee of residents met last year to help suggest and set energy goals, which were opened to public comments as potential "strategies." Some could make their way into the city's long-term comprehensive plan.
The afternoon reception at Ross Norton looked much like a school science fair, with display boards, foldout tables and helpers in name tags. It all seemed rather harmless — unless, of course, you see a sinister side.
"They confuse, and they obfuscate, and they swerve," Paige said. "This is the candy. All these boards are candy. Eye candy. Pretty pictures. Specious-sounding rhetoric. Don't believe it."
For fairness' sake: Fifty people came to the open house with interest. Only a dozen came to protest. They were very much the fringe, but a vocal, visible fringe, in cowboy hats and American-flag T-shirts, scoffing with every step.
Their weapons: informational pamphlets, satirical signs and the color red. The Greenprint organizers had handed out stickers for visitors to rate each eco-friendly idea: green for support, red for opposition.
"Some people," said Mackenzie Kaderabek, who works for sustainability advisory firm EcoAsset Solutions, "just put red stickers wherever they could."
There were other dastardly plans — one saboteur joked that he should trade in all his green stickers for reds — but their most influential tool was vocal dissent. That's where Paige came in.
Paige is a home remodeler and a failed candidate for Clearwater City Council, a mostly Republican five-member body that Paige once declared was made up of "two liberals and three socialists." His views range from right to far-right. He's proud of his deep conservatism, saying it empowers people. Protesters had organized on the social-networking site Meetup, in groups like the North Pinellas 9.12 Project and Patriots' Ink.
As he walked from board to board with sweaty intensity, Paige entered into an argument with Susan Miller, Pinellas County's bicycle and pedestrian planner. He said plans for public transit, like high-speed rail, drain money needed for new highways. He added that the government should use eminent domain more often to lay roads.
"Americans love their cars," said Paige, who drives a Chevy Silverado. "I'm a contractor. I can't put my tools on a bicycle."
Miller fought back, saying more options for transportation were better for everyone. Her argument about the hazards of car exhaust was mostly ignored: Unlike most of the world's scientists, Paige does not believe climate change is caused by people.
"It's an agenda? A bicycle and walking agenda?" Miller said. She laughed off Paige's assertion that the country's foundations were "built on the automobile," adding that boats brought over early settlers.
"And, um," she said, "what about walking?"
Paige moved to the next board, the issue sufficiently confused, obfuscated and swerved.
One visitor, Mary Ann Kirk, didn't know about the stickers. She attends a discussion group on recycling and sustainability at the Seminole Library. She keeps her own compost bin. On Tuesday she came to the open house out of curiosity, wearing Crocs with little sunflowers.
She saw one idea, about tying a home's trash rates to how much garbage it produces, dubbed "Pay As You Throw." She liked it. So she put up one small green sticker.
"And look at that, all these red stickers," she said. "Nobody wants to change."
Contact Drew Harwell at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.