In the environmental world, it’s characterized as the classic battle: Should wild areas be preserved for their intrinsic qualities or conserved for their resources? In other words, should nature be used for “the greatest good for the greatest number of people for the longest time,” as nineteenth-century progressive environmentalist Gifford Pinchot put it; or should the wilderness be protected and revered without human intrusions, a view espoused by romantic environmentalist John Muir?
Today, with a burgeoning population encroaching on our remaining wild areas and economic help scarce, many would say that Pinchot’s beliefs are more realistic for the modern world. In fact, there are even those, such as Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, who would take Pinchot’s notion a step further: Natural areas must be managed to benefit humans, if they are to survive at all.
Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecologist, and activist. Despite her deep awareness of the world’s environmental and social justice crises, she is filled with hope.
Hope, in this age of cynicism masquerading as science, is a scarce resource. We often treat it poorly — as if hope is the hallmark of New Age lunatics or wide-eyed children. As if it’s naïve. Passive. A longing … without any intention of rolling up its sleeves.
It’s particularly tough to be an optimistic environmentalist with such a steady accumulation of bad news: birds dropping from the sky from starvation because wetlands that served as avian drive-thrus during migration have been replaced with houses; renowned climate scientist James Hanson’s prediction of “game over” if the Tar Sands are developed; oil spills; nuclear meltdowns …
Shiva knows all this. Yet she’s hopeful.
With a world increasingly under environmental threat and corporations and lobbyists that peddle misinformation, hope isn’t a luxury. It’s all we have.
When one of America’s best-known and finest actors, Marlon Brando, bought his own private island in 1966, people generally wrote the news off as just another eccentric act by the rich. Until his death in July 2004 at the age of 80, Brando “owned” Tetiaroa, a 2.5-square-mile atoll in the South Pacific, 37 miles north of Tahiti. (He obtained a 99-year lease to it from the French Polynesian government.)
Brando was a nature purist and hoped Tetiaroa would be part environmental laboratory — mostly for sea turtles — and part modest eco-resort. In a will he signed in 1982, he put Tetiaroa in a trust so it could be preserved for posterity. “If I have my way,” he once wrote in a memoir, “Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of who they are and what they were centuries ago.” His wish was to keep the island from becoming overly developed and in as natural a state as possible.
Buying a kayak qualifies as a “big purchase” for my family, and my husband and I recently took that huge step. Although we’ve had a canoe for a long time, this is our first acquisition of this type of silent-sports, aquatic craft.
A friend recently confided in me that she, too, was increasingly alarmed by news of climate change, water shortages, chemicals in our kids’ toys — letting me know she was prepared to take action. From now on, she announced triumphantly, she planned to reuse gift bags. “And if people think that means I can’t afford new ones, well … that’s fine.”