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[greenyes] a little something to think about

2005: Nature's Crisis

Dave Foreman

In my 35 years as a conservationist, I have never beheld such a bleak and
depressing situation as I see today. The evidence for my despair falls into
three categories: the state of Nature, the power of anticonservationists,
and appeasement and weakness within the conservation and environmental
movements. I fear that on some level we must recognize that this state of
affairs may be inevitable and impossible to turn around. That is the
coward's way out, though. The bleakness we face is all the more reason to
stand tall for our values and to not flinch in the good fight. It is
important for us to understand the parts and pieces of our predicament, so
we might find ways to do better.

The State of Nature

I've just authored a book, Rewilding North America, which goes into
considerable detail describing and trying to understand the Seven Ecological
Wounds that drive the Sixth Great Extinction, which is the fundamental fact
and problem in the world today. Around the world, direct killing of
wildlife, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, loss of ecological
processes, invasion by exotic species and diseases, ecosystem pollution, and
catastrophic climate change are worsening. We six-and-a-half-billion
too-clever apes are solely to blame. Despite impressive successes here and
there, the overall state of Nature continues to decline. This is simple
reality, despite the scolding we hear not to be doom-and-gloomers.

Power of the Anticonservationists

In the United States, the federal government has become the sworn enemy of
conservation. Not only has the radical-right Presidency and Congress stopped
any progress in the conservation and restoration of Nature, they are
dedicated to overthrowing the twentieth century's legacy of conservation and
environmental policy and programs. They are unabashedly trying to go back to
the unfettered, uncaring era of the robber barons in the late nineteenth
century. This revolution is both philosophical and practical. Bad as this
is, the radical-right is also dedicated to shredding science, particularly
biology, and time-traveling back to before the Enlightenment.

While the United States is an extraordinary political case, elsewhere some
of the supposedly most civilized nations on the planet, such as Canada,
Norway, and Japan, are again waging nineteenth-century crusades against wild
Nature: frontier-forest mining, slaughter of troublesome animals (such as
seals, wolves, bears), and commercial whaling, just for starters. Japanese,
European, Chinese, and American businesses are looting the last wild places
for timber, pulp, wildlife, minerals, and oil, opening up such places to
further habitat destruction and bushmeat hunting by local people.

Although the radical-right control of the U.S. Presidency and Congress was
gained by a very small margin in 2004 (no mandate), it is backed by powerful
and popular forces and by a shocking descent into prescientific
irrationality by large sections of the public.

Appeasement and Weakness in the Conservation and Environmental Movements

The efforts to protect wild Nature and to clean up pollution face internal
subversion from the right and left that leads to deep compromises not only
on issues but also on fundamental principles. We can stuff these calls to
compromise into several boxes, including sustainable development,
resourcism, Nature deconstruction, politically correct progressivism, and
anthropocentric environmentalism.

First, some brief definitions: conservation is the movement to protect and
restore wildlands and wildlife (Nature for its own sake); resourcism or
resource conservation is the resource extraction ideology of the U.S. Forest
Service and other agencies (multiple-use/sustained yield); environmentalism
is the campaign to clean up pollution for human health and make cities

The radical right has been disciplined about thinking and acting for the
long term; we have failed in part because we do not have a long-term
strategy to which we stick.

Internationally since the 1980s, conservation efforts to protect wildlands
and habitat by means of national parks, game reserves, and other protected
areas have been severely compromised as financial-aid agencies and even some
top international conservation groups have shifted to promoting so-called
sustainable development and community-based conservation. Although these
approaches are sometimes sound conservation tactics, in practice they have
elbowed Nature into second place. This establishment undercutting of Nature
conservation has been joined by the leftist passion of some anthropologists
and other social engineers to reject protected areas in favor of indigenous
extractive reserves. Shockingly, sustainable development is coming close to
dominating the pages even of publications about conservation biology, and
gains more and more adherents in resource management graduate schools and
large "conservation" organizations. Some members of the academic left have
become deconstructors of Nature, denying that it independently exists,
proclaiming that we invent it; therefore there is no reason to protect it.

Pressured from the left and right during the last twenty-five years,
conservation and environmental organizations worldwide have moved away from
forthright calls for zero population growth, even though human
overpopulation is the underlying cause of all conservation and environmental
problems. We hear a growing drumbeat that there is a dearth of births and
that developed nations face economic collapse because of fewer young people.
We are essentially silent in response to this cornucopian madness.
Similarly, the conservation and environmental movements in general shy away
from acknowledging the reality of human-caused mass extinction. If we don't
even clearly state the problem, how can we do anything about it?

We can also see a shift in the U.S. from conservation to resourcism among
several prominent and influential entities. Once the preeminent conserver of
biological diversity, The Nature Conservancy has been steadily moving to a
resourcist approach. They talk now of "working landscapes," a fancy
euphemism for logging and livestock grazing, and demand that their employees
talk about people instead of Nature. High County News, once a feisty voice
for grassroots conservationists in the West, has steadily turned into a
voice for resourcism: not the preservation of wilderness, but the
preservation of happy little resource-extraction communities, and for
negotiated settlements between conservationists and resource-extraction
industries, which usually favor industry.

Some consultants, foundations, and political realists are urging grassroots
wilderness groups to compromise in order to pass wilderness legislation that
may or may not adequately protect existing wilderness. This encouragement of
appeasement is based on a desire to pass bills, and an overreaction to the
narrow victory of the radical right in the 2004 election. Another source for
this push to compromise is the fuzzyheaded wish that if people only talk
together, everything can be worked out.

Several bright young men have gained a disturbing amount of attention with
their recent speeches about the "death" of environmentalism. Insofar as they
consider Nature protection at all, they demand that conservationists drop
their priorities to focus on social justice and other anthropocentric
progressive causes. Overall, they call on environmental organizations to
essentially go out of business and just become part of the progressive wing
within the Democratic Party. The overwhelming identification of
environmentalism with the progressive movement and the Democratic Party is a
key reason that it lacks credibility with much of the American public.

Just as there has been a disturbing shift in attitudes among large segments
of the American public, so have there been problematic changes among members
of the conservation public. To be blunt, many of the employees and activists
with conservation groups are ignorant of our history and have not read the
classic books of conservation. There is an appalling lack of intellectual
curiosity in the movement. On the whole, the radical right and grassroots
anticonservationists both read and think more than do conservationists and
environmentalists. As far as outdoor recreation goes, young people, who once
would have been hikers and backpackers, now seek thrills on mountain bikes
and thus cut themselves off from experiencing Nature and from having
self-interest in protecting roadless areas. I don't see kids out messing
around in little wild patches; they're inside, plugged in to a virtual

These are trends. Of course there are exceptions. Dwelling on the
exceptions, though, keeps us from doing something about the real problems.
I'm not doing "nuance" here. This sober, unapologetic cataloging of the
array of problems Nature conservationists face is, I am convinced, the first
step in developing a more effective strategy.

In December of 1776, the American Revolution was in its darkest hour. In
response, Tom Paine wrote his first "Crisis" paper:

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the
sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his
country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and

General Washington had the paper read to his miserable, disheartened troops
in their frozen winter camps. There was no surrender. Years of hard battle
lay ahead but victory was gained.

We need Tom Paine conservationists in our dark hour. Let us not apologize
for loving wild Nature, for caring about other species, for speaking the
truth. Reach out to others. Make deals when they are good deals. But let us
not be frightened and browbeaten into appeasement. Let us instead offer a
bold, hopeful vision for how wilderness and civilization can live together.

--Dave Foreman, Chairman and Executive Director

The Rewilding Institute <>

March 24, 2005

Please spread widely. Permission is granted to print in publications only
in its entirety and credited.

Justin Stockdale

Recycling / Special Projects Manager

Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency

149 Wildlife Way

Santa Fe, NM 87506

505-424-1850 or 505-780-0628cell

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