To the casual observer, a conservationist and an environmentalist are probably the same thing. Both like to keep things relatively unspoiled, are big on high-efficiency everything, and do what they can to think global and act local. The big difference comes up in how they translate their end goals into actions, something that makes them as different as a Vernal conservative and a Salt Lake City liberal.
Environmentalism has been in the deathgrip of an extremist "all human activity is bad" faction since its founding in the middle of the 20th century. They have an unwavering and irrational belief that no good can come of human activity and that all negative effects on plants, animals, or overall weather conditions are human-caused. There's no room for natural selection to weed out species that have no place in the food chain any more, and long-term cyclical weather patterns are dismissed out of hand as a potential cause of temperature fluctuations. They are zealots who can't change their minds regardless of the data presented to them.
Environmentalists often invoke the Law of Unintended Consequences to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt onto whatever it is they think will be causing an environmental problem. As opposed to actually proving that human actions and development will cause a problem, they opt to postulate an endless number of "what if" scenarios causing hundreds of millions of dollars in extra costs for projects ranging from developing new water sources to paving a two-lane road on an existing right-of-way. They're often short on facts and make every action seem like a devastating crisis that will result in the doom and gloom of mankind.
Conservationism is the older and wiser brother of environmentalism. Conservationists don't like waste, so they structure their personal actions around being efficient. They're also economic realists that know that getting others to conserve is a matter of educating them about how much money they could be saving with simple changes. Instead of trying to blockade development with endless lawsuits, conservationists are making their marks with hybrid and E85 vehicles, ultra-efficient home appliances, and using mass transit as often as possible. They talk up the benefits of these personal choices and make their case with the almighty dollar, showing that conserving energy saves more money than it costs.
Conservationists work on facts and figures, not unproven postulates. While most of them strongly believe that human actions can and probably do cause some harm to the planet, they look for solutions that don't involve legislative and legal battles. They're wise to what works and work to build consensus instead of an "us versus them" mentality.
Thankfully, many environmentalists have caught on to the lunacy eminating from the fringe and have been trying to find economically viable solutions to environmental problems. The realization is that companies will fight expensive legislation tooth and nail but adopt cost-saving measures that just happen to be environmentally friendly without a second thought. Some environmentalists are even trying to find ways to make nuclear power friendly by eliminating the waste produced by the plants while increasing the safety and efficiency. It's a brave new world indeed when nuclear protestors transform into nuclear advocates.
Let's hope that those of us who are conservationists will drown out the cacaphony of environmental extremists from groups like the Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Association to provide some real and lasting solutions.