Long before we were labeled tree-huggers, before environmentalist, ecologist and conservationist, people with a passion for the Earth were commonly called nature lovers. What better time than February to re-embrace the term? If there’s one thing the Common Threads community has in common, it’s a devotion to hiking, skiing, climbing, surfing, fishing and other outdoor sports that bring us into loving contact with our beautiful yet fragile planet.
But with all due respect to the Beatles, love is not all you need. And to turn around Edward Abbey’s well-known advice to activists, it is not enough to love the land, it is even more important to fight for it.
The long-running fight over America’s public lands and other wild places is between the many millions who treasure wild places and want to preserve them for future generations and the corporate and political interests who want to exploit them for oil, gas, coal, uranium, timber and other resources – future generations be damned.
Most of the time, these trespassers on the commons – places that belong to all of us – barely even pay royalties on the riches they extract. There’s almost no place they don’t want to drill, mine or clearcut. They’re blowing the tops off of mountains, filling pristine lakes and streams with mining waste and filing uranium claims near the rim of the Grand Canyon.
In recent years, those of us on the other side have been on the defensive. In a recent column, The New York Times’ Tim Egan wrote:
“For all the ranchers and wildcatters, the loggers and right-wing county commissioners who clamor for control of the nation’s public lands, the dominant user is an urbanite, who bikes, skis, rafts, climbs, hunts, fishes, watches birds, waits for sunsets with a camera or finds an antidote for ‘nature deficit disorder’ in a weekend on a high plateau.
“Yet this silent majority is taken for granted. Obama, following down the ravaged path of George W. Bush, has made it easy for oil and gas drillers to industrialize huge swaths of land that are owned by every citizen. About six million acres have been leased to drillers in the last four years; a total of 44 million acres are under lease now.”
Egan and I find hope in Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Interior: Sally Jewell, CEO of outdoors retailer REI. As Egan wrote, Jewell would be “one of the few directors of that vast department to actually share the passions of the majority of people who use the 500 million acres of public land under Interior’s control.”
But a new Interior chief will make little difference if citizens aren’t also demanding change and backing her up in protecting these beloved lands. Academic studies show that when environmental protest increases, more environmental legislation and rules are passed.
So, yes, let’s love our planet, our wild lands, our shared public domain. And let’s act on that love. Let’s climb and hike and fish and surf, and then let’s come home and write and vote and protest for what we love.
Che Guevera said: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love . . . We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.” In this season and every season, let’s act on our love for the planet.