Sorry if my tone is a little more angry than usual. I’m sharing a little more of my reasoned opinion and less of my direct experience today, hopefully you’ll bare with me.
Even as they chatter away in Paris, talking about cutting emissions and ringing in a new flavor of Ben and Jerry’s (Seriously. It’s called Save Our Swirled). Even as it is made a foregone conclusion that development must go hand in hand with conservation a man died who thought differently.
Let me back up and explain. I love the outdoors. I love the life on our planet. I wish for all biodiversity, every gorgeous mountain, virgin forest and whispering desert would remain as it is forever. I have tried in my own way to be a conservationist but I am seeing more and more clearly my failings. I have flown halfway across the planet for an internship or a job there, usually studying biodiversity or the natural history of a species. I have become a vegetarian which is one of the few substantial things I’ve done to curb my own destruction of the planet. I try to be thoughtful about everything I consume and I am trying to consume less and less in my personal life. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn. I am saying this because I wanted to talk about two things in this post: 1. the farce that the Paris Climate Summit is 2. the life and death of a man who thought differently about conservation. Let me start with a quote from the Foundation for Deep Ecology discussing the problems facing our environment to illustrate what I’m talking about,
” ..the emphasis upon economic growth as a panacea, the industrialization of all activity, from forestry to farming to fishing, even to education and culture; the rush to economic globalization, cultural homogenization, commodity accumulation, urbanization, and human alienation…Technology worship and an unlimited faith in the virtues of science; the modern paradigm that technological development is inevitable, invariably good, and to be equated with progress and human destiny. From this, we are left dangerously uncritical, blind to profound problems that technology has wrought…”
Basically what this says is, we can’t count on technology to save our planet. We can’t endlessly grow our economies without consequence. Nature is more than a commodity, more than a resource. This statement flies in the face of the talks going on in Paris. It flies in the face of “conservationists” like Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio who have private jets, enormous homes and spend no significant amount of time in the outdoors (movie sets don’t count).
To me that statement says we can’t count on solar panels, wind energy. Damming Hetch Hetchy and turning it into a hydroelectric plant won’t save us from exhaust. We must sacrifice some to save everything we could ever have. The thrilling thing about this view is it takes conservation out of the hands of the billionaires. The thrilling thing is that you don’t have to afford a solar panel to turn off your lights. Don’t buy that new fair trade organic cotton t-shirt, don’t buy a new shirt. This is a view of conservation where the fate of the planet lies in your hands and my hands, not those of world leaders. They call us consumers, like it’s our fate. Perhaps it’s time we became more than that. Perhaps it’s time to realize a clear view of a mountain peak or a song bird is more beautiful than anything seen on a tv or computer screen.
The Foundation for Deep Ecology was founded by Doug Tompkins, the same man who founded The North Face, the outdoor equipment company. He walked away from The North Face to found conservation organizations and create parks and conservation lands in Chile and Argentina. You can see however, echoes of his conservation ethics in a letter in his first catalogue,
” It is our express aim to help people equip themselves with the most practical gear to fit their needs and to reduce over-equipping…The old proverb necessity before luxury should be remembered…”
Doug Tompkins died recently as a result of a kayaking accident in Chile at the age of 72. I hope that more conservationists can focus on simplicity, ‘necessity before luxury’ and not get bedazzled by the empty promise of a technological messiah.