mfioretti: environmentalism*

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  1. On April 23, 1851, Henry David Thoreau spoke at the Concord Lyceum about the interrelationship of God, man and nature. It was the opening salvo of the modern American conservation movement. Equating sauntering with absolute freedom, Thoreau, whose “Walden” would be published three years later, ended his oration with eight words that in coming decades helped save the Maine woods, Cape Cod, Yosemite and other treasured American landscapes: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The sentiment became popularized when The Atlantic published Thoreau’s essay “Walking” in May 1862, with the line as the centerpiece, a month after his death.

    This July 12 will be Thoreau’s 200th birthday. Lovers of his back-to-nature musings will flock to the shores of Walden Pond to celebrate his literary greatness. I’ll be one of them. But our pilgrimages to honor Thoreau shouldn’t be confined to wood-fringed Concord. Thoreau, toward the end of his life, famously called for townships to have “a park, or rather a primitive forest, of 500 or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.” A full 14 years before Congress established Yellowstone National Park (America’s first) in 1872, Thoreau, courtesy of this visionary preservationist offering, helped inspire our magnificent National Parks system. The true largess of Thoreau, then, can perhaps best be discovered by experiencing one of the outdoor temples that his “in wildness” declaration helped protect.

    Most Americans know Thoreau from reading “Walden,” with its simple assertion, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” But it’s the “in wildness” epigram that’s near scripture for environmentalists rallying against hyper-industrialization and climate change. Just as Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” nourished the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., his kinetic “in wildness” precept has electrified the literary imaginations of Barry Lopez, T. C. Boyle, Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, David Quammen, Edward Hoagland, Carl Hiaasen, Rick Bass, Gary Snyder, Louise Erdrich and other wilderness warriors safeguarding our cherished public lands.

    The environmental activist John Muir, who worshiped Thoreau — particularly the passage in “The Maine Woods” (1864) that called for “national preserves” — acknowledged that the Concord sage spurred his Yosemite protection advocacy. Often borrowing from his literary hero’s dictum, Muir harnessed Thoreau’s statement to promote his drive to save California wilderness from ruin. “Civilization,” Muir wrote, “needs pure wildness.”
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  2. “When we’re representing people,” Lopez explains, “we need to make sure we’re mindful and respectful and acknowledge that history of a lack of trust — based on the way that these organizations or communities feel like they’d been treated in the past.”

    For Aaron Mair, who has led one of those distrustful communities and also served as president of the biggest environmental organization in the country, he hopes his tenure as Sierra Club president showed green groups that they could serve their traditional missions while broadening their mandates to address the needs of vulnerable communities.

    “White privilege and racism within the broader environmental movement is existent and pervasive,” Mair says. “The current is not maintainable — we’re becoming a brown nation.

    “It’s not about a one-off,” he adds. “It’s about sustainability.”
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  3. The main difference between the Old Left and the Alt-Left is that the latter focuses more on the cultural, behavioral and psychological sides of economic life. In a world where material resources are relatively abundant and information and information processing become dominant in economic life, money begins to matter less than e.g. cultural capital, good social relations and access to high quality information. What is lacking is not stuff, or money, but intelligent solutions for distribution, value creation and ideas about what to do with our lives in the first place. To create a fair and sustainable global order we must create better social settings for people to do worthwhile things.

    We have already stated that this entails a “betrayal of the working class” (read previous post in this series). What do we mean by that? Basically it means that the Alt-Left loosens its ties to the worker movements and the interests of labor (higher wages, safer employment, benefits, consumption and so on). Simply put, the greatest problem of the world is no longer that working and middle class people make too little money. Many of the problems that come from poverty and economic precariousness are – upon closer inspection – in fact social and psychological problems. In the most developed countries people aren’t literally starving or freezing to death. But they are being stressed out, alienated, frustrated, treated poorly, manipulated by advertisement and getting stuck in destructive social relationships. Increasing people’s incomes and consumption can be a way of remedying these maladies, but it is far from the only way. And a too strong focus on material wealth does not only blind us to other means of improving people’s lives; it also perpetuates an overall system of production and consumption that is not ecologically sustainable.
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  4. Nathaniel Rich writes that 'bringing extinct animals back to life is really happening — and it's going to be very, very cool. Unless it ends up being very, very bad.' Among the 'genetic rescues' being pursued by The Long Now Foundation's Revive & Restore project is The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback. And returning a flock of passenger pigeons to the planet is just the tip of the iceberg. 'We're bringing back the mammoth to restore the steppe in the Arctic,' says Stewart Brand. 'One or two mammoths is not a success. 100,000 mammoths is a success.' De-extinction, while no doubt thrilling ('It would certainly be cool to see a living saber-toothed cat,' Stanford's Hank Greely and Jacob Sherkow argued in Science), is disturbing to many conservation biologists who question the logic of bringing back an animal whose native habitat has disappeared, worry about disease, and are concerned that money may be diverted from other conservation efforts."
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  5. In question time after his talk, one audience member came to the microphone and asked Hwang Dae-Kwon that question greenies just LOVE to ask:

    How many trees he had planted to compensate for the printing of his book?

    Hwang Dae-Kwon smiled and replied that it was a fair point and that he should look at taking steps to redress the ecological footprint of his book.

    I just wanted to crawl under my seat in embarrassment.

    Intellectually, I understand that books require paper and trees and have an impact, regardless of what is printed on them by whom.

    In the context of the speaker and his subject, it seemed a churlish question that diminished the contribution of a man who had survived conditions most of us cannot imagine and yet emerged with valuable learnings to share with others.

    This is why people who don’t identify as part of the green movement dislike the green movement.
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  6. it’s hard not to be a little fascinated by this shift in focus. It’s so weird — environmentalism is so liberal! Nazism is so … well, let’s not go all Godwin here, but you know.

    On the other hand, it makes some sense. Mongolia’s going through a huge mining boom right now, and there are nationalist worries about workers from China and other countries coming in to steal the jobs. Rather than fight the workers, these neo-Nazi groups are focusing on fighting back against the mining companies, in part by raising concerns about pollution.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2013-07-03)
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  7. He was still given a free pass to violate environmental regulations for $2.5 million dollars. Not only did he get the green light to violate those regulations in exchange for cash, but major California politicians were at this event.

    Which just proves that, here in California, laws only apply to people who are too poor to buy their way around them.
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  8. When it comes to rhetoric about “saving the planet,” she has two main beefs: First, it encourages a “greener-than-thou” form of preachy consumerism that does not encourage real change nor help those most in need. Second, the rhetoric clings desperately to the historical notion that nature = pristine wilderness, obscuring the muddy, mixed up reality visible in places like her beloved L.A. River.

    Price, who calls herself a “lapsed wilderness-loving environmentalist,” doesn’t think we should stop caring about how sustainable our consumption is, but she does believe that we need to inhabit nature instead of trying to save it. We need to think a lot more about people, she says, and about creating communities and providing food and jobs both sustainably and equitably. In short, we need to deal with the real world.
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  9. “In practice, human efforts to protect and restore Earth’s ecological health have focused on a “species” or a “habitat” or some thing that needed protection. But this has failed to account for the fundamental nature of living systems. Earth’s ecology is not a collection of things. Rather, Earth’s ecology operates as interlocking, co-evolving systems, driven by feedbacks and interactions. The systems remain always dynamic, never completely stable, and always correcting for instability, the way a hummingbird adjusts in flight or a human bicycler maintains balance.

    Every subsystem in Nature interacts with others. Nothing exists alone in nature. Nothing survives alone in Nature. We talk about a “tree” and “soil” and “atmosphere,” for convenience, but none of these exist as they do without the others. There is no absolute division among these elements of the system. Indeed, biological and physical sciences do not describe “things.” Science describes relationships. “All division of the world into things,” warned Gregory Bateson, “is arbitrary.”
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2012-11-10)
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  10. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it.
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