My last post was a little political as well, but I guess it’s hard to escape it these days. I’ve been hearing such extremist opinions and views coming from both sides of the political spectrum, and frankly it’s exhausting. The majority of people I’ve personally talked to don’t feel that strongly one way or another. Obviously, they’re not completely neutral because everyone has one issue or another that they care about or affects them. But in general, most people I talked to were moderate, leaning one way or another.
So what does this have to do with national parks and the environment? I’ve noticed that a lot of people who get involved with environmental issues tend to get carried a little overboard with it. Even if the individual is moderate, the overall image that environmentalists have is very extreme. You know the type.
I think the goals that most of these people have are honorable, and I actually agree with a lot of them, but I think that they way people go about it is all wrong.
While reading Paradise Wild by David Oates, I was struck by his writing about Edward Abbey. Part of me loved his critique of Abbey (and not just out of spite because my recent ex-boyfriend raved about Desert Solitaire ad nauseam). Abbey was angry and isolationist. He was antagonistic to all of civilization, denying any connection to it at all. He was so extremist and alienated himself from all of society. Frankly, as Oates puts it, “what a jerk” (page 42). This alienation refuses to acknowledge that we are all part of the problem. As Oates puts it on page 43 of Paradise Wild:
Crude individualism is what Abbey cannot see, the most American thing about him, leading him to blandly assume that somehow he is a “social atom,” detached and whirling on a solitary course. Yet as Abbey fulminates against civilization, he himself embodies it in every dimension. Who buys his beans, provides his crumbly little trailer and its butane heater and flush toilet? The vast apparatus of the US government, the world’s biggest bureaucracy, funded by the world’s biggest consumer economy … all so he can sit contemplatively in the desert.
We cannot escape civilization. It’s a fact of life today. The extremist attitude rarely seems to accomplish anything besides alienating people who have opposing or moderate opinions. People need to find middle ground, or we’ll never reach any sort of agreement.
I think we need to focus on what we have in common with the mountain men and the city slickers, even when most of us fall somewhere in the middle. If we deny any connection to civilization, like Abbey did, it accomplishes nothing. None of the problems of the national parks are solved. No environmental issues are resolved. Abbey is functioning as an individual instead of trying to connect with people and incite any form of change as a collective group. That’s where the real power comes into play. Pretending not to be part of civilization is delusional and counterproductive. We have to use the resources given to us through civilization and technology in order to make a difference .
On the other side of things, if people act like they are completely separate from nature it’s a different but equally dangerous form of alienation. True, most of us are surrounded by buildings, cars, computers and smartphones on a more daily basis than forests, streams, cliffs and valleys. But I think that nature is present in our very being as humans. Even if it’s just the tree outside your window or a ladybug that happens to make its way into a classroom, nature is everywhere.
And we need it to be. I’ve always been told that going outside is good for you, so I did a little research (aka googling) and came upon an article about it. The article links to a series of studies in “environmental psychology” of which I could only view the abstract, but between that and the article that lead me to it I got a general idea of what the study is about. It says that nature is essential to our vitality. It makes us feel alive and well. According to Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, “Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses. One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings.”
We need nature. Lately, nature increasingly needs us. I think if we can find a way to have moderation between sides advocating nature and culture, the national parks and the environment as a whole would benefit the most. People seem to forget that you don’t have to be all one thing or another. There is grey area. We can be in culture, but we are of nature. And we need both.